Chicago police said Sunday they’re still seeking a follow-up interview with Jussie Smollett after receiving new information that “shifted” their investigation of a reported attack on the “Empire” actor. The trajectory of the investigation “shifted” after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them late Friday without charges, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday.
He said police reached out to Smollett’s attorneys to request another interview with him. Guglielmi said Sunday the interview hadn’t been conducted yet.
A source close to the investigation tells CBS News two Nigerian brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, told detectives Smollett paid them to participate in the attack. They said they bought rope that was found around Smollett’s neck at a nearby hardware store. A raid of their home turned up ropes, masks and bleach.
Sources told CBS Chicago the brothers rehearsed the assault with Smollett.
Guglielmi declined to comment on 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.
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.
Pamela Sharp, a spokeswoman for Smollett, said Sunday there were no updates “as of now.” Another spokeswoman, Anne Kavanagh, later said she couldn’t comment on whether Smollett had agreed to another interview.
Smollett’s lawyers said late Saturday that the actor was “angered and devastated” and 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. “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,” the statement said.
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. 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 statement added.
The other brother played a prisoner in season two of “Empire.”
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 would like to question.
Both brothers apparently left Chicago on the day of the alleged attack. On Wednesday, Chicago police picked them up 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.
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’s 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,” Jamal Lyon, wasn’t being written off the show.
Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.