Police Reviewing Hundreds of Hours of Video in Search For Jussie Smollett's Alleged Attackers: Report
Security has been tight on the set of the Fox series in the wake of Tuesday morning's assault.
Chicago police are reportedly reviewing hundreds of hours of closed circut video footage from city and private cameras in the Streeterville neighborhood in a search for clues about the two men who allegedly attacked Empire actor Jussie Smollett on Tuesday morning (Jan. 29).
According to the Chicago Tribune, police exanded their search area along the Chicago riverfront on Tuesday night in an effort to find any images of the alleged suspects or their cars.
Police said Smollett, 36, was attacked in what is believed to be a hate crime around 2:00 a.m. by two unnamed suspects who began yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him, punching and kicking the actor who plays Jamal Lyon on the long-running Fox musical drama. The assailants reportedly punched Smollett in the face, poured an "unknown chemical substance" on him, then wrapped a rope around his neck. "The Chicago Police Department received a report of a possible racially-charged assault and battery involving a cast member of the television show Empire," read a statement from the Chicago PD. "Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.
The Tribune reported that police radio traffic asked officers to check in on a report from a caller in an apartment on East North Water Street around 2:30 a.m., with a friend of the openly gay actor telling responding police that a "noose was placed over the friend's neck." By early Tuesday afternoon, detectives obtained video from the area, but had not identified any suspects; at press time a Chicago PD spokesperson told Billboard that there were not updates on the identities of the alleged assailants.
Police also confirmed that a letter with anti-gay epithets and white powder were mailed to the studios where Empire is filmed on Jan. 22, addressed to one of the show's actors, triggering a hazardous materials call to fire officials who determined the powder was not hazardous; the FBI has taken over the probe into the letter. TMZ reported on Wednesday that Smollett had turned down an offer of extra security in the wake of the letter as security was beefed up for all the cast members last week on the Chicago set of the show.
According to the Tribune, CNN anchor Don Lemon reported on air that he had spoken to Smollett, who confirmed the incident and said he was shaken and angry about the attack, during which the men reportedly yelled, "Aren't you that faggot Empire n----r?" as Smollett was leaving a Subway sandwich shop by himself.
TMZ described the alleged attackers as white men wearing ski masks to conceal their faces, who allegedly attacked Smollett as he fought back -- sustaining a fractured rib in the process -- yelling "This is MAGA country" as they fled the scene; police would not confirm the reported slurs used by the attackers or the alleged reference to the hat associated with President Donald Trump's "Make American Great Again" campaign slogan. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that a police spokesperson said Smollett was initially "reluctant" to call police because of the attention it would draw, but that his manager eventually summoned authorities around 2:42 a.m., 40 minutes after the attack.
When officers arrived at the apartment the "thin, light rope" was reportedly still around Smollett's neck and the actor asked officers to turn off their body cameras while interviewing him, which the paper said is a standard request from victims. Police encouraged Smollett to go to Northwestern Memorial Hospital to get treatment for lacerations on his face and neck. The actor was treated and released from the hospital a short time later, after initially telling officers that the attackers were two men wearing ski masks and all-black clothing.
On Wednesday morning, according to the Sun-Times, Smollett told detectives that the men also yelled "this is MAGA country" after they attacked him, though he was unable to provide any description of them, including their race. At press time police told Billboard that they had not uncovered any eyewitnesses or video of the attack.
Smollett has gotten support from dozens of fellow stars and fans in the wake of the attack, including Ariana Grande, who said the incident made her "really fucking sick to my stomach," as well as one of the show's executive producers, Brian Grazer. The famed producer told TMZ, "It's the worst thing possible. Theres's nothing worse that than," calling Smollett a "giganticaly talented and authentic artist...a giver, not a taker," and labeling the attack a "hate crime." Grazer's longtime producing partner and friend, Ron Howard, added "it's fucking infuriating."
In addition to impassioned messages of support from the show's co-creators, Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, Smollett also got loving tweets and Instas of support from co-star Taraji P. Henson and many others.
I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn’t and we all feel his pain right now. @jussiesmollett is pure love to the bone AND THAT IS WHY SO MANY ARE FEELING HIS PAIN BECAUSE IT IS OUR PAIN!!! I tell you one thing HATE WILL NOT WIN!!!! My baby is resilient and love still lives in him. The devil and his minions are very busy right now but one thing is for sure and two things are for certain #GODIS and that is all I know. This song needs to be downloaded until it goes triple platinum because the message is NEEDED. #weareresilientpeople AND #weaintgoingnowhereuntillwearefinished. The love so many have him just goes to show HE IS LOVE!!!! I LOVE YOU MY BABY MY BABY!!! #LOVEWINSALWAYS. ------------------