Actor Jussie Smollett now a suspect in criminal investigation

Posted at 5:51 PM, Feb 20, 2019

[Breaking news update, posted at 5:33 p.m. ET]

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has been "officially classified" as a suspect in a criminal investigation for allegedly filling a false police report, according to a tweet from Chicago police communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi.

The tweet goes on to say this is a Class 4 felony and detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County grand jury.

[Previous story, posted at 5:17 p.m. ET]

Chicago detectives investigating an alleged attack on Jussie Smollettare working to obtain the actor's financial records, a high-ranking police source said Wednesday.

Investigators have also sought to ask Smollett additional questions about the attack he reported on January 29.

Smollett's attorneys met with Cook County prosecutors earlier Wednesday, according to Chicago Police spokesman Tom Ahern. But a source close to actor's team told CNN that he has not given police a follow-up interview and no such meeting is scheduled.

Smollett told authorities that two men attacked him, putting a rope around his neck and pouring an unknown chemical substance on him.

The actor denies playing a role in his attack, according to a statement from his attorneys.

In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the series "Empire" on which Smollett appears, and Fox Entertainment expressed support for the actor Wednesday.

"Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show," the statement said.

Two law enforcement sources with knowledge of the investigation have told CNN that police believe Smollett paid two brothers to orchestrate an assault on him.

The brothers, who were arrested and released in connection with the attack, met Tuesday with police and prosecutors at a Chicago courthouse, 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.

Brothers are cooperating with law enforcement, sources say

The men -- whom 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."

Anne Kavanaugh of Media Pros 24/7, a media consulting firm representing Smollett, released a statement this week, saying in part, "Smollett's attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf."

The police sources said that the brothers are cooperating with law enforcement and said that records show they purchased the rope found around Smollett's neck at a hardware store in Chicago.

Actor told police he was attacked near entrance of a Loews hotel

Smollett's attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement Saturday describing their client as angry about allegations he orchestrated the attack.

"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 said.

"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 is openly gay and since 2015 has played the gay character of Jamal on the Fox TV drama "Empire."

The actor told detectives two men attacked him near the lower entrance of a Loews hotel in Chicago, according to Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. 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 last month's incident, police released surveillance images showing two silhouetted individuals walking down a sidewalk, and police said they were wanted for questioning.

Police late last week said the men were being viewed as "potential suspects." But by Friday night they had been released, Guglielmi said.

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 expressed frustration about not being believed

Smollett gave his first detailed account last week of what he says was a hate crime against him, and the aftermath, in an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America."

"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 said that one of the attackers shouted, "This is MAGA country," before punching him in the face. But he denied reports that said he told police the attackers wore "Make America Great Again" hats.

"I never said that," he told ABC's Robin Roberts in an interview that aired February 14. "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."