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Chicago police: Jussie Smollett considered suspect in his report of hate crime attack

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Image: Actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the "Empire" FYC Event in L
Actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the "Empire" FYC Event in Los Angeles. -
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Richard Shotwell AP file
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Jussie Smollett has been classified as a suspect in the case that sprang from his reporting being a victim of a hate crime attack last month, police said Wednesday.

"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," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.

Smollett filed a report with the Chicago Police Department on Jan. 29 claiming that he was assaulted by two masked men who hurled racist and homophobic slurs. The "Empire" actor, who is black and gay, also said his attackers poured what he believed was bleach over him and put a noose around his neck.

Police investigated the reported attack as a "possible hate crime," and some celebrities, including "Empire" cast members, and gay-rights advocates flocked to social media to express their support for Smollett.

But some other social media users began to question Smollett's claims after police said they were not able to find video of the incident after going through a plethora of footage from many surveillance cameras in the affluent Streeterville neighborhood of Chicago where the attack allegedly occurred.

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On Jan. 30, police released pictures from a surveillance camera located near where Smollett said he was attacked that showed two men who police said were "potential persons of interest."

The two men were taken into custody on Feb. 13 and questioned. They were released two days later, on Friday, without charges. Police said the two, who are brothers, are no longer suspects in the case and are cooperating in the probe.

Persons of interest in the alleged racist and homophobic attack of actor Jussie Smollett as released by the Chicago Police Dept.
Persons of interest in the alleged racist and homophobic attack of actor Jussie Smollett as released by the Chicago Police Dept.Chicago Police Dept

On Saturday, a police source said the probe had shifted into whether the actor had paid the two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, to stage an assault. Investigators had discovered that the brothers had purchased the rope used in the alleged attack.

Guglielmi said investigators wanted to have another interview with Smollett.

Smollett didn't talk to police on Monday or Tuesday. However, Ola and Abel Osundairo met with police and prosecutors at a criminal court building on Tuesday, according to police spokesman Tom Ahern.

That same afternoon, police investigated and then discounted a tip they received that Smollett was seen with the Osundairo brothers on the night of the attack.

Guglielmi told NBC News on Wednesday that the investigation into the alleged attack has demanded "considerable" resources. He said, at one point, the department had 12 detectives scouring for surveillance videos.

Smollet has told police he was on the phone with his manager during the alleged attack, and the manager said he heard the attackers say, "This is MAGA country." The actor refused to hand over his cellphone to police, but later gave investigators a PDF file containing a limited list of his calls.

On Wednesday, Fox refuted a TMZ story claiming Smollett's scenes on the show were "getting slashed" from nine to four.

"Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show," 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement.

In his first interview about the incident last week, the actor told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was angry about the alleged attack and that people were doubting him.

"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," Smollett said.