Actor Jussie Smollett has officially been named as a suspect in a criminal investigation in regard to his alleged assault according to a report in TMZ. A Chicago police spokesman officially confirmed that detectives are in the process of presenting relevant evidence to a grand jury.
"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," tweeted police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
If Smollett is charged with a felony in the case, he could face up to three years in prison.
The actor, who plays Jamal Lyon on Fox Television's Empire, claimed he was assaulted in the early morning hours on January 29 while he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. Smollett claims that a group of men beat him and while in the process screamed racist and homophobic slurs at him. He further claimed that the men yelled "This is MAGA country" – in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" – and then looped a rope around his neck before fleeing the scene.
However, a pair of brothers has reportedly told TMZ that Smollett staged the attack, and they are said to have been at the courthouse and expected to testify today. Furthermore, the duo claims that Smollett paid them $3,500 before the attack. While TMZ reports that "sources connected to Smollett" say that the payment was for workout sessions and help with a dietary regimen, the brothers have reportedly said that Smollett paid far more than they were owed. And while the brothers haven't claimed that Smollett overtly instructed them to administer the staged beating, they claim that the implication was clear.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, police combed through hundreds of hours of public and private CCTV footage from the area where Smollett claims the attack took place but found no evidence of it. Further, THR reports that a pair of brothers were picked up by police at Chicago's O'Hare Airport upon returning from a trip to Nigeria, and were taken in for questioning. And on Saturday, police spokesman Guglielmi did say that the two men had been released and had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation."
A spokeswoman for Smollett's lawyers did not comment on the developments in the case except to say that they would "keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf."