(UPDATED with Chicago PD statement) BREAKING: The focus of the Chicago Police Department’s probe into the alleged assault of Jussie Smollett almost three weeks ago has shifted – to the Empire star 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 close to the situation told Deadline today.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” a Chicago PD statement late Saturday declared. “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Lawyers for Smollett have been contacted by law enforcement in the last several hours. In anticipation of such requests, the Empire star has in recent days retained attorneys Victor P. Henderson and Todd Pugh. The Chicago-based lawyers specialize in criminal defense.
Today’s new “trajectory” statement is the first official update on the case since the department’s remarks last night stated: “Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete.”
This comes as CNN is reporting that sources in the Chicago PD tell them that the actor who plays the openly gay Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox drama “paid two men to orchestrate the assault.”
The two men in question are Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who police previously described as “potential suspects.”
The two were released by authorities at 9 p.m. Chicago time Friday after being arrested and held without charge by the police department for 48 hours. Chicago detectives are now following the lead that the brothers purchased the rope that was placed around Smollett’s neck in the early hours of January 29, when he was supposedly attacked by two men screaming racist and homophobic slurs.
At least one of the two has appeared as an extra on the Chicago-filmed Empire and seems to know Smollett socially.
Solidly supportive of Smollett in the immediate aftermath and days since January 29, Fox had no comment today on the shifting direction of the investigation when contacted by Deadline. On the day of the attack, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement they were “deeply saddened and outraged” by the assault.
At the same time and in the following days, Smollett’s Empire co-workers, colleagues, many across the industry and even President Donald Trump expressed support and outrage at the attack that the actor described.
A sold out February 2 West Coast live show at the Troubadour saw Smollett take the stage to cheers and describe how he fought back against his assailants to even stronger cheers.
Facing doubts about the event as police searched for “persons of interest” and Smollett handed over limited phone records to them, the performer went on Good Morning America on February 14 to say he thought the attack occurred because of his ongoing criticism of Trump. “I come really, really hard against 45,” he told GMA co-host Robin Roberts. “I come really, really hard against his administration, and I don’t hold my tongue.”
This week, Fox didn’t hold its tongue at all in refuting any notion that Smollett may have staged the attack because his exit from Empire was being considered by producers. “The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” said 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment on Valentine’s Day. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
Empire co-creator Danny Strong and writers on the hip-hop centered series also refuted the rumor that local Chicago media was running with on the Windy City-filmed show.
Reps for Smollett did not return request for comment on their client’s perspective or situation.
Anita Bennett contributed to this report.
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