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Chicago police have more questions for ‘Empire’ actor

Updated February 17, 2019 - 3:31 pm

CHICAGO — Chicago police and representatives for Jussie Smollett were keeping quiet about the investigation into a reported attack on the “Empire” actor a day after authorities said the case had “shifted” and that they want to interview Smollett again.

Pamela Sharp, a spokeswoman for Smollett, said Sunday that there were no updates “as of now.” Another spokeswoman, Anne Kavanaugh, later said she couldn’t comment on whether Smollett had agreed to another interview.

Police Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday that the trajectory of the investigation “shifted” after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them late Friday without charges. He said police also reached out to Smollett’s attorney to request the follow-up interview with him.

Smollett’s lawyers said late Saturday that the actor felt “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault, adding that, “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.” The statement from attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson also said Smollett would continue cooperating with police.

Smollett, who is black and gay, has said he was physically attacked last month by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and “This is MAGA country!” He said they looped a rope around his neck before running away as he was returning home from an early morning stop at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him.

Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily-monitored area but were unable to find any footage of the attack. They did obtain images of two people they said they would like to question.

On Wednesday, Chicago police picked up the brothers at O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. They described them as “suspects” in the assault, questioned them and searched their apartment.

Then, late Friday evening they released the two men without charges and said they were no longer suspects. They said they had gleaned new information from their interrogation of them.

One of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer, whom the actor hired to help get him physically ready for a music video, Smollett’s attorneys said in their statement.

“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,” they said.

Police have said they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime and considered Smollett a victim. Reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Smollett, who is also a musician, gave an emotional speech during a Feb. 2 concert in West Hollywood, California, saying he went ahead with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.

He also gave an interview to Robin Roberts of ABC News that aired Thursday in which he said he was “pissed” at people who did not believe he was attacked.

“I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative,” he said. “I’m not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous. And it’s offensive.”

Earlier this week, police said reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax were unconfirmed.

Producers of the Fox television drama have supported Smollett, saying his character on “Empire,” James Lyon, was not being written off the show.

Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.

———

Check out the AP’s complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.

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