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By Andrew Blankstein and Phil Helsel
A police source familiar with the investigation into an alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett tells NBC News the probe has shifted into whether the actor paid two men who were questioned in the case to stage an assault.
The Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said, “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. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
An email to an attorney reported to represent Smollett was not immediately answered.
Smollett filed a report with the Chicago Police Department on Jan. 29 stating that two masked men hurled racist and homophobic slurs before beating him. The actor also said his attackers poured what he thought was bleach over him and put a noose around his neck.
The police department had said it was investigating the alleged attack as a possible hate crime. Smollett is black and gay.
Friday night, police said they released the two men who had been questioned in the case without charge, and police said they are no longer considered suspects. Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi said when the men were released that it was “due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations.”
Some social media users began to cast doubt on Smollett’s claims after police said they were not able to find footage of the alleged attack after going through a voluminous amount of recordings from the many surveillance cameras in the area.
Police also had said Smollett refused to turn over his phone and phone records for the investigation. The actor had told police he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack. Police have said, however, that Smollett was cooperating with the investigation, and later gave investigators a PDF file with partial phone records.
In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday, Smollett said he was upset that some people questioned whether the attack occurred.
“It’s like, you know, at first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, ’cause it’s the truth,'” Smollett said. “Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you — how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.'”
“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 a lot much more, and that says a lot about the place we are in our country right now,” he said.