Lawyers for Jussie Smollett have refuted claims that the Empire star orchestrated his own attack on Jan. 29, as suggested by Saturday news reports and after the Chicago PD said the investigation was heading in a new direction.
CNN on Saturday cited CPD sources as saying that Smollett paid two Nigerian brothers, the persons of interest questioned this week by police, to help him stage the attack, which had originally been described as racist and homophobic.
Later on Saturday, Chicago PD communications director Anthony Guglielmi said, “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police … 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.” Our sister site Deadline meanwhile quoted a source as saying “the new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident.”
The statement from Smollett’s lawyers, issued late Saturday evening, said, “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 the aforementioned persons of interest is said to have worked as an extra on Empire, while Smollett’s lawyers confirmed that one of the men worked as Smollett’s trainer for a music video. Both were released by police on Friday without charges.
“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,” said the lawyers’ statement.
On Thursday, in the wake of local Chicago news reports suggesting the attack was a hoax, the Chicago PD said that that theory was “unconfirmed by case detectives” and that Smollett was still being considered a victim.