Jussie Smollett Denies Orchestrating His Own Attack
Chicago police are saying the case has "shifted."
Chicago police said their investigation into the Jan. 29 apparent hate attack on Jussie Smollett has “shifted,” the Associated Press reported on Saturday, while attorneys for the Empire actor said he is “angered and devastated by recent reports” claiming police believe he orchestrated the attack.
The developments came hours after multiple outlets reported that the two brothers who were arrested and released without charges in the case have reportedly claimed that the Empire star paid them to stage the incident.
According to CBS Evening News, a police source told the outlet on Saturday that the brothers said Smollett paid them to participate in the alleged incident and purchase the rope that was found around the star’s neck.
CNN reported on Saturday that two Chicago police sources said investigators believe Smollett paid the men in exchange for carrying out the attack and the men are now fully cooperating with authorities.
“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,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement, according to the AP. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
“Detectives have reached out to his attorneys hoping to speak with him again,” Chicago police spokesman Thomas J. Ahern later said in a statement to PEOPLE.
Smollett responded to the reports in a statement released by his attorneys on Saturday. “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,” Smollett’s lawyers said. 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,” the statement continues. “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,” Smollett’s attorneys added. “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.”
A rep for Fox, which airs Empire, had no comment, while the brothers’ attorney did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
On Friday evening, Chicago Police Department chief communications officer Guglielmi said on Twitter that the men had been released after being called in for questioning by authorities.
“Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging,” he tweeted.
“Detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” Guglielmi added.
A spokeswoman previously told PEOPLE the pair was arrested Wednesday evening. Because they were not charged, police withheld identifying information about them.
The police spokeswoman also confirmed the suspects are the same people as those previously identified as persons of interest.
An attorney for the men, Gloria Schmidt, told CBS Chicago on Thursday that the men know Smollett from working on Empire and go to the same gym on occasion. Schmidt did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Officials also recently denied reports that the attack on Smollett was staged.
“While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax,” Guglielmi told PEOPLE in a statement. “The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.”
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement Thursday, responding to the claims. “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” the statement said, adding, “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Smollett was also brought in for questioning on Thursday.
At around 2 a.m. in Chicago on Jan. 29, Smollett transported himself to a doctor after he said he was the victim of an apparent hate crime.
“Two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” the statement continued. “The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim. At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck. The offenders fled the scene.”
After detailing what occurred and hitting back at critics who have questioned the accuracy of his account, Smollett got emotional, saying he feared that his assailants won’t be found.
The Chicago Police Department had confirmed that Smollett, who is gay, was involved in a “racially-charged assault and battery.” They also released two photos of the persons of interest; however, the images did not show the individuals’ faces.
“I want that [surveillance] video found so badly for four reasons,” Smollett said in the GMA interview. “Number one, I want them to find the people that did it. Number two, I want them to stop being able to say ‘alleged attack.’ Number three, I want them to see that I fought back. And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought back. It does not take anything away from people who are not able to do that, but I fought back. They ran off, I didn’t.”
“Learn to fight. Learn to be a fighter,” he continued, addressing young gay men. “I am not advocating violence at all, so let’s be clear about that. If you’re going to die, fight until you do. If you don’t fight, you have no chance. I have fought for love. I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people — who I am now, one of those people — who have been attacked in any way.”
After being asked if one can heal if their attackers are never found, Smollett broke down.
“I don’t know. Let’s just hope that they are, you know what I’m saying? Let’s not go there yet,” he said, crying.
“I was talking to a friend and I said, ‘I just want them to find them.’ And she said, ‘Sweetie, they’re not going to find them,’ ” he said. “That just made me so angry. So I’m just going to be left here like this? I’m just going to be left here? They get to go free, go about their life, and possibly attack someone else. And I’m here left with the aftermath? That’s not cool to me. That’s not okay.”