Actor Jussie Smollett has said he is “angered and devastated” by media reports suggesting Smollett himself orchestrated the alleged “homophobic and racist” assault he reported last month, in a statement through his lawyers.
Smollett, who stars in FOX drama Empire, told police two men attacked him in Chicago in the early hours of January 29, yelling homophobic and racist slurs and striking him. The men allegedly poured a chemical, thought to be bleach, on him and wrapped a rope around his neck.
In the days after, police said they were investigating the incident as a “possible hate crime” against the openly gay actor and last Wednesday arrested two Nigerian brothers as “possible suspects”. The two men were held for questioning for two days, before they were both released without charges. One worked as an extra on Empire, and both know Smollett from the show, according to reports.
In a shock twist, CNN and other US outlets reported at the weekend that police now believe Smollett staged the attack with the help of the two men, citing information from unnamed police sources.
“The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident,” a police source told Deadline.
Chicago Police wouldn’t officially confirm or deny the reports but said in a statement “new evidence” received from the two men who were arrested in relation to the incident had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation”.
“We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview,” the statement read.
But Smollett has angrily denied the allegations he “played a role” in the incident, in a statement through his lawyers.
“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” the statement said.
“He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
Last week, Smollett condemned those who doubted he was telling the truth about the incident during an interview with Good Morning America.
Smollett has played gay character Jamal Lyon on the music industry drama Empire for five seasons.
The actor announced he was gay in 2015 in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, telling the talk show host that he hoped his coming out would help other gay people feel less alone.