After weeks of intense speculation, Chicago police are officially accusing Empire star Jussie Smollett, 36, of helping to stage an alleged hate attack against him. CPD’s Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted on Feb. 20 “Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury.” TMZ reports that brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo — who allegedly helped Jussie stage the attack — are at the courthouse and prepared to testify against the actor. If he ends up getting charged with filing a false police report, Jussie could face up to three years in prison for the felony charge.
Jussie, however, has consistently denied that the incident was a hoax, that he had any involvement in staging it and insists that he was the victim of a hate crime at the hands of two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him. The story has taken a series of twists and turns ever since Jussie told police that he was attacked by two white men in the early hours of Jan. 29 in Downtown Chicago.
The actor who – like his character on the hit Fox show – is black and gay, claimed that the strangers punched, kicked, poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck. He also claimed that they told him that this is “MAGA country,” which suggests that they are supporters of President Donald Trump and his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
“I can’t tell you what color their eyes were… and I did not see anything except the second person I saw running away,” Jussie told Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts during a Feb. 13 interview. “And the first person, yeah, I saw his stature. I gave the description as best as I could. You have to understand also that it’s Chicago, in winter. People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that.”
But people did question Jussie’s account of what happened and, days later, multiple outlets (including CNN) published reports that unnamed police sources said they believe that Jussie conspired with the two brothers to orchestrate an elaborate hoax. The two men in question were arrested on Feb. 13 and brought in for questioning but released without charge on Feb. 15 “due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations,” Chicago PD Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi said. Police also revealed that one of the two men had appeared as an extra on Empire. and one had worked as Jussie’s trainer.
Jussie has insisted throughout the investigation that he is a victim, not someone who conspired to stage a fake 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,” lawyers for the star said in a Feb. 16 statement, according to The New York Times. “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.”