Police Checking Tip Actor Seen With Brothers Before Attack - NBC4 Washington

Police Checking Tip Actor Seen With Brothers Before Attack

Detectives are seeking a follow-up interview with Smollett after they said new information "shifted" their investigation of the reported attack on the actor and singer

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Tip That Smollett, 2 Brothers Were Together Unfounded: Cops

    Chicago police say they hope TV star Jussie Smollett will cooperate in questioning. The "Empire" actor said he was the victim of a hate crime, but investigators are considering whether the entire account was fabricated. NBC 5's Ash-har Quraishi reports.

    (Published Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019)

    Chicago police are investigating a tip that on the night "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett reported being attacked by two masked men he was in an elevator of his apartment building with two brothers later arrested and released from custody in the probe.

    Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the person who lives in the building or was visiting someone there reported seeing the three together the night last month that Smollett says two masked men hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck.

    Guglielmi says police haven't confirmed the person's account. Detectives plan to interview the person on Tuesday.

    Chicago police still want to re-interview Smollett about the night he says he was attacked, but it's unclear if or when the "Empire" actor will comply.

    A representative for Smollett said he had no plans to speak with detectives on Monday, despite their requests. A source close to the situation said Smollett had not met with police as of Tuesday afternoon and would not be meeting with them later that day. 

    Chicago police are seeking a follow-up interview with Smollett after they said new information "shifted" their investigation of the reported attack on the actor and singer. 

    Detectives were questioning two brothers about the attack but released them late Friday without charges, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday. Police said they had gleaned new information from their interrogation of the two men and they were no longer suspects.

    A source familiar with the investigation told NBC's Andy Blankstein the investigation has shifted to whether Smollett paid the two men to fake the attack. 

    Guglielmi declined to comment on published reports that police believe Smollett staged the assault or that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case. 

    "We're not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we've gotten," he said.

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

    Smollett, who is black and gay, told authorities he was physically attacked last month as he was returning home from an early morning stop at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago. He said two masked men shouted racial, anti-gay slurs and "This is MAGA country!" as they looped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown chemical substance" on him before running away.

    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.

    Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily monitored area where Smollett said the attack occurred but were unable to find any footage of the incident. They did obtain images of two people they said they wanted 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.

    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," the attorneys 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 from some politicians and celebrities. Smollett's account of what happened also has been met with skepticism, particularly in the wake of the latest developments.

    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."

    "I respect too much the people - who I am now one of those people - who have been attacked in any way," Smollett told Roberts, adding, "You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this."

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

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