CHICAGO (Fox 32 News/AP) - Police announced Wednesday that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is now officially a suspect for filing a false police report in regards to his alleged attack in Chicago.
Filing a false report in Illinois is considered a Class 4 felony, which carries a prison sentence of 1 to 3 years and also a fine, possibly, of up to $25,000.
Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, said the men attacked him at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop in downtown Chicago. He said they beat him, made racist and homophobic comments and yelled "This is MAGA country" - an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" - before looping a rope around his neck and fleeing.
Investigators went through hundreds of hours of private and public surveillance video from the area where Smollett said he was attacked but couldn't find footage of the beating. They did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question. And last week, police picked up the two brothers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the men's apartment.
The men, who were identified to multiple media outlets by their attorney as Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett before being released Friday. On Saturday, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the men provided information that had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation."
Smollett's lawyers have said the actor was angered and "victimized" by reports that he may have played a role in staging the attack.
"Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying," Pugh and Henderson said in a statement Saturday.
Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation Tuesday, according to a one-sentence statement issued by a spokeswoman.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case," spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. She didn't elaborate as to how Foxx was familiar with anyone in the case and she said Foxx would have no further comment. Foxx's first assistant, Joe Magats, will oversee the case, the office said.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi also said Wednesday that detectives and the two brothers who were earlier deemed suspects in the attack were testifying before a grand jury.
Smollett's attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, met with prosecutors and police earlier Wednesday afternoon. It's unknown what was discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting. The attorneys didn't reply to requests seeking comment.
Meanwhile, federal investigators are still investigating the hate letter that was sent to Smollett at the “Empire” studios. That is a separate investigation from the one conducted by Chicago police. If the feds find that Smollett did send that letter to himself and can prove it, he could also be facing federal charges separate from the case that Chicago PD is building.