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Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the Fox TV show, is now officially considered a suspect in the investigation into his alleged assault.
“Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote on Twitter.
Smollett’s personal representatives declined to comment. Fox and 20th Century Fox TV also had no comment.
Smollett, who is black and gay, told police that two men attacked him at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. He said they beat him, made racist and homophobic comments, and yelled “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before looping a rope around his neck and fleeing.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement Wednesday saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character isn’t being written off the show. The statement follows reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation into the reported attack.
Investigators went through hundreds of hours of private and public surveillance video from the area where Smollett said he was attacked but couldn’t find footage of the beating. They did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question. And last week, police picked up two brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the men’s apartment.
The brothers, identified to multiple media outlets by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett before being released Friday. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said last week that media reports about the attack being a hoax were unconfirmed by case detectives, but on Saturday, he said the men provided information that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” He also said detectives had requested another interview with Smollett.
The Osundairos’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment from the Associated Press.
Smollett’s lawyers have said the actor was angered and “victimized” by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.
“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said in a statement Saturday.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett’s lawyers, said they would “keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.” She didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation Tuesday, according to a one-sentence statement issued by a spokeswoman.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. She didn’t elaborate as to how Foxx was familiar with anyone in the case and she said Foxx would have no further comment. Foxx’s first assistant, Joe Magats, will oversee the case, the office said.
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