This story was updated with a statement from Jussie Smollett’s legal team.
The day after two suspects were released without charges due to new evidence in the attack on Jussie Smollett, police reportedly are investigating whether the Empire star was an “active participant” in the assault against him.
On Saturday afternoon, multiple media outlets cited Chicago police sources in reporting that the 36-year-old actor is now suspected of paying the two brothers who were involved in the alleged racial and homophobic attack against him that took place on Jan. 29.
In a statement to EW, Chicago PD said, “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Hours later, Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, provided a statement to EW: “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.
“Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”
Earlier on Saturday, a law enforcement source reportedly told Deadline Hollywood, “The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident.” TMZ, which originally reported that the two men previously arrested were brothers and Empire extras Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, says the duo “completely cooperated” with police and one of their phones showed a call between them and Smollett not long before the incident.
In his first interview since the alleged attack, Smollett explained to Good Morning America why he didn’t turn over his phone to police. “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours,” he said, noting sensitive information like “private pictures” and his partner’s number. “I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna do that.” He added, “I don’t know what that’s gonna be to hand over my phone. And, honestly, by then inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there.”
Just over two weeks ago, Smollett, who is gay and plays a gay character on Empire, was walking to get food in Chicago, where the series films, when he says two unknown offenders approached him, yelling racial and homophobic slurs. They then attacked him, he claims, pouring an unknown chemical substance on him and even wrapping a rope around his neck. The offenders fled the scene, while Smollett transported himself to Northwestern Hospital.
Additional reporting by Nicholas Romano.