Chicago police say local media reports that allege the attack against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed.
The reports surfaced late Thursday as detectives were questioning two “persons of interest” who were captured on surveillance cameras in the area of downtown Chicago where Smollett said he was attacked last month.
The two men aren’t considered suspects but may have been in the area when Smollett says he was attacked, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said earlier Thursday. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and homophobic slurs before attacking him and putting a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29.
Guglielmi said Thursday night that Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson contacted at least one Chicago news outlet to say investigators have no evidence to support their reporting. The spokesman added that Johnson said the “supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
Producers of the television drama also disputed media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show, calling the idea “patently ridiculous.”
“(Smollett) remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement late Thursday.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told ABC News in an interview that aired Thursday morning that he believes the people of interest were the ones who attacked him.
“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them,” he told the network. “Never did.”
Smollett also told Robin Roberts of ABC News that people who question his narrative of the attack were “ridiculous” to think he would lie. Smollett has said he was attacked while out getting food at a Subway restaurant.
“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.”
The singer and actor said the attackers yelled “this is MAGA country,” referencing President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Smollett said earlier reports from some outlets that his attackers were wearing “MAGA” hats were inaccurate.
“I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he said. “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
Smollett said he didn’t want to call police at first, but that his friend and creative director, Frank Gatson, called on his behalf. Smollett said he didn’t remove a rope from around his neck before police arrived “because I wanted them to see.”
He also said he didn’t initially want to give police his cellphone because the device contained private content and phone numbers.
Smollett later gave detectives heavily redacted phone records that police have said are insufficient for a criminal investigation.
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