Empire star Jussie Smollett is ‘angered and devastated’ by the latest accusations.
What exactly happened on the early morning of January 29th?
That is now a puzzling question, with Chicago Police apparently shifting their investigation into the matter. Jussie Smollett, a star on the TV series Empire, initially reported that he was the victim of a brutal hate crime attack, a development that provoked a wave of outrage.
Smollett is openly-gay and African-American, and an ardent supporter of LGBTQ causes.
Initially, Chicago Police were unable to find any suspects, despite assigning nearly a dozen investigators while examining roughly 20 nearby cameras.
Now, it appears that two individuals have been retained for questioning.
The pair, both from Nigeria, had previously worked on the set of Empire and may have been paid to ‘attack’ Smollett.
According to a report from CNN, the individuals are being questioned as potential co-conspirators in the attack. The duo are apparently Nigerian brothers, and fully cooperating with police investigators. “Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CNN that Chicago Police believe actor Jussie Smollett paid two men to orchestrate an assault on him that he reported late last month,” the CNN report states.
The CNN report follows earlier indications of a shift in the investigation with Chicago Police. The department’s inability to receive phone records from Smollett or his music manager, Brandon Z. Moore, initially raised suspicions. Ultimately, Smollett and his manager offered heavily-redacted phone records, though Chicago Police protested that the evidence was too scant to assist in the investigation.
Smollett claims that his attackers attached a noose around his neck while screaming racist and homophobic epithets. They also reportedly screamed ‘This is MAGA country,’ referring to Donald Trump’s well-worn presidential campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
Smollett’s manager says he heard the epithets while on the phone with his client.
But is that what really happened?
According to CNN’s sources, one of the Nigerian brothers purchased the rope from a nearby Chicago hardware store. That rope was then fashioned into a noose. That information, if true, raises glaring questions about these ‘attackers,’ especially given their previous ties to Smollett.
Both reportedly worked on the set of Empire, and seem highly unlikely to spearhead a racially-charged attack in the name of ‘MAGA’.
At present, Chicago Police are releasing limited information about these suspects. They’ve only pointed to ‘new evidence,’ part of a fairly tight-lipped public stance on the situation.
But in a separate leak to Deadline, a source claiming to be inside Chicago Police says the investigation is markedly shifting. “The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident,” a law enforcement source told Deadline.
Separately, a spokesperson for the police department confirmed that a ‘shift’ had indeed occurred.
“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,” a statement affirmed. “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
The questioned individuals have now been identified as Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo.
Smollett’s lawyers, on the other hand, are aggressively countering the CNN and Deadline stories.
“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,” a statement from Smollett’s attorneys read.
“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.”
Fabricating a crime or filing a false police report can result in felony charges in the state of Illinois.