Chicago detectives want to speak to actor Jussie Smollett – but it’s not clear when, or if, that will happen.
Police want to ask Smollett additional questions about the attack he reported on January 29, but as of Tuesday morning, Smollett’s attorneys had not indicated when their client will be available to talk to police. Smollett told authorities that two men attacked him, putting a rope around his neck and pouring an unknown chemical substance on him.
Two brothers, who were arrested and released in connection with the attack, met with police and prosecutors at a Chicago courthouse on Tuesday, Chicago police spokesman Tom Ahern said. The county’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, has recused herself from the investigation, according to a spokeswoman from her office.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” said the spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton.
The men – who attorney Gloria Schmidt identified as Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo – were arrested February 13 but released without charges Friday after Chicago police cited the discovery of “new evidence.” The two are no longer suspects at this time, Chicago police have said.
In a joint statement issued to CNN affiliate WBBM, the men said: “We are not racist. We are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
On Monday, Anne Kavanaugh with Media Pros 24/7, a firm representing Smollett, released a statement saying in part, “Smollett’s attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf.”
Smollett charged with providing false information to law enforcement in 2007 misdemeanor case
More than a decade ago, Smollett pleaded no contest to providing false information to law enforcement in a 2007 misdemeanor case, according to Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office.
The case stems from a DUI stop in which Smollett gave police the wrong name.
Smollett also pleaded no contest to driving with a blood alcohol level over the legal limit and driving without a valid driver license.
He was sentenced to two years of probation and paid a fine, according to Mateljan.
Police looking into whether Smollett paid the brothers
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.
Smollett denies playing a role in his attack, according to a statement from his attorneys.
The sources told CNN the two men are now cooperating fully with law enforcement.
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement to CNN Saturday night saying Smollett was angry about these latest developments.
“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,” the statement 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.”
Smollett identifies as gay and since 2015 has played the gay character of Jamal on the Fox TV drama “Empire.”
Letter addressed to Smollett before alleged attack included the word ‘MAGA”
Seven days before the alleged attack, a letter containing white powder was sent to the Chicago set of “Empire,” Chicago police have said. Authorities determined the powder to be aspirin, according to Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
The image of the letter and envelope, shared with CNN by a person close to Smollett, includes a message apparently cut from magazine clippings, and a stick figure drawing. Smollett told ABC News the drawing was of a “stick figure hanging from a tree which had a gun pointing towards it.” The letter, addressed to Smollett, includes the word “MAGA” on the outside of the envelope in place of the return address.
According to Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi, the actor told detectives he was attacked by two men near the lower entrance of a Loews hotel in Chicago. Police were told the two men yelled “‘Empire’ fa***t” and “‘Empire’ n***er’” while striking him.
In a supplemental interview with authorities, Smollett confirmed media reports that one of the attackers also shouted, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The day after the incident, police released surveillance images that showed two silhouetted individuals walking down a sidewalk, and police said they were wanted for questioning.
The two men were arrested Wednesday. Police on Friday said the men were being viewed as “potential suspects” and that detectives had “probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime.”
One of the men has appeared on “Empire,” Guglielmi said. A police source also told CNN on Friday night that the men had a previous affiliation with Smollett, but did not provide additional details.
Smollett has expressed frustration about not being believed
Smollett gave his first detailed account of what he says was a hate crime against him, and the aftermath, in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that aired Thursday.
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more,” Smollett said. “And that says a lot about the place where we are as a country right now.”
Smollett stated that one of the attackers shouted “this is MAGA country” before punching him in the face. But he refuted reports that said he told police the attackers wore “Make America Great Again” hats.
“I never said that,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f****t, they called me a n****r. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on some racist sundae.”
CNN’s Ryan Young and Brad Parks reported from Chicago; Dakin Andone reported in Atlanta.