Chicago police question 2 ‘persons of interest’ in Jussie Smollett assault case
Chicago police say they have identified two “persons of interest” in the assault case involving Jussie Smollett, just hours after ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired an interview with the “Empire” actor in which he described his alleged attack.
“After a meticulous investigation with the use of advance technology, interviews with the victim and witnesses and transportation records, detectives have identified two persons of interest in the Empire cast member case. No further information available at this time,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. In a tweet Thursday, Guglielmi said that the individuals that were seen on surveillance tape images released last month “are not yet suspects but were in area of concern and are being questioned.”
In the interview that aired Thursday morning, Smollett told Robin Roberts he is “pissed off” following the attack, which Chicago police are investigating as a potential hate crime.
The interview marked Smollett’s first detailed public account of the attack, which police say happened in Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. Police say Smollett, who is black and openly gay, was assaulted by two “unknown offenders” who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured an unknown chemical substance on the actor and wrapped a rope around his neck.
Chicago police have not made any arrests and have not found any video of the alleged assault, leading some people to doubt Smollett’s account of what happened. Smollett, who wiped away tears throughout the interview, told Roberts he is angry about the assault, but also about people not believing his story.
“At first, it was like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it because it’s the truth,” Smollett said. “Then it became a thing of, like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that, like how do you not believe that. It’s the truth.’ And then it became a thing of, like, ‘Oh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth.”
Smollett told Roberts that before the alleged attack, he had gone to a Subway restaurant shortly after landing in Chicago, where the Fox drama had been filming.
He was on the phone with his music manager, Brandon Z. Moore, as he left the restaurant. As he crossed the street, Smollett said he heard someone yell “Empire,” which he ignored. It was after hearing homophobic and racial slurs that he turned around and confronted a man in a ski mask.
Smollett said the attacker told him “this is MAGA country” and used a racial slur before punching him in the face. “So I punched his a— right back.”
“We started tussling,” Smollett said. A second attacker began kicking him in the back. “Then it just stopped and they ran off. “
Smollett said his manager was still on the phone, which had fallen out of his pocket. He told Moore he had just been jumped. Then, Smollett said, he looked down and saw a rope.
“I noticed the rope around my neck and I started screaming,” Smollett said. “And I said ‘there’s a (expletive) rope around my neck.”
Police previously told The Post that a thin, white rope was still around Smollett’s neck when they first came into contact with him about 40 minutes after the attack. He told Roberts he was only able to give a body description of his attackers because the entire encounter happened so fast. “It felt like minutes, but it was probably like 30 seconds, honestly,” Smollett said.
The actor said he doesn’t “have any doubt” that the two people in the surveillance image released by police are his alleged attackers.
“I want that video found so badly” – for multiple reasons, Smollett told Roberts. “No, 1, I want them to find the people that did it, No. 2, I want them to stop being able to say ‘alleged attack.’
“I want them to see that I fought back,” Smollett continued, his voice breaking. “And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought the f—- back.”
“I didn’t run off. They did,” Smollett said, referring to his attackers.
Smollett has faced increased scrutiny this week amid reports that he gave redacted phone records to police. A spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department confirmed to The Post that they “received limited and redacted phone records from the victim.”
The spokeswoman said the records will be analyzed by detectives, who will follow up with Smollett if additional information is needed. She added that Moore, who police consider a key witness because he said he could hear the attackers over the phone, “has refused to let police examine his phone.”
Smollett’s publicist released a statement this week noting that “any redacted information was intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.” The statement emphasized that Smollett is a victim and that he has cooperated with police throughout the investigation.
“Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police. Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie’s account of what happened that night consistent and credible,” Smollett’s publicist said in the statement.
Earlier this month, Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson told Chicago’s ABC7 that Smollett had “been very cooperative and we have no reason, at this point, to think that he’s not being genuine with us.”
“I have fought for love. I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people – who I am now one of those people – who have been attacked in any way,” Smollett said during his “GMA” interview. “You do such a disservice when you lie about something like this.”
“If the attackers are never found, how will you be able to heal?” Roberts asked the actor.
“I don’t know,” Smollett said, as his eyes filled with tears.” Let’s just hope that they are. Let’s not go there yet.”
“I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we gotta,” he added. “I still want to believe with every thing that has happened that there’s something called justice.”
Bethonie Butler is a writer for The Washington Post.