The alleged attack on Empire star Jussie Smollett took another strange twist on Saturday when Chicago police confirmed that two men seen on video near him on the night of the attack and briefly arrested were actually his friends and workout partners, and police now believe that Smollett was an “active participant” on the staged attack.
As Deadline reported, the investigation into the attack has shifted toward a focus on Smollett himself.
“The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident,” a law enforcement source told the news outlet.
TMZ also reported that Smollett paid a pair of Nigerian brothers to attack him.
Chicago police have not officially said that Smollett is a suspect in the incident, and have said that they continue to treat him as a victim of the attack.
Smollett suffered cuts and bruises from the attack in January, when he claimed two masked men beat him while shouting racist slurs and putting a noose around his neck. Police were able to locate two men seen on surveillance video near Smollett that night and arrested them this week, but released them without charges.
On Saturday, police announced that the two men — Nigerian brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo — were actually friends with Smollett and worked out with them in the gym in his luxury apartment building.
“The two suspects released yesterday were in fact on the scene and in the surveillance image,” said Chicago police spokeswoman Jessica Rocco, via the New York Post.
There have been reports that Jussie Smollett was in on the planning of a fake attack to keep him from being written off Empire, but this was later denied both by Chicago police and by the producers of Empire. Smollett appeared on Good Morning America this week to push back against reports that the attack was staged, saying that he believes people doubted him because he is black and openly gay.
“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 much more. A lot more,” said Smollett.
Jussie Smollett Reportedly Paid Brothers to Stage 'Attack' https://t.co/Rqc1onDEfA
— TMZ (@TMZ) February 17, 2019
Chicago police said the two brothers were also extras on Empire.
According to the Deadline report, Jussie Smollett has hired two famed Chicago lawyers who specialize in criminal defense, Victor P. Henderson and Todd Pugh. The actor’s lawyers said that he continues to cooperate with police on the attack and they have been contacted by police asking for Smollett to resubmit to questioning by detectives.