Lawyers for Empire actor Jussie Smollett have hit back at reports he “played a role” in an attack against him last month.
Smollett contacted emergency services on January 29, telling police he was attacked by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and “This is MAGA [Make America Great Again] country!”.
He said they looped a rope around his neck before running away as he was out buying food at a Subway restaurant in the early hours, near his Chicago home. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him.
But after weeks of investigation, authorities have now said “the trajectory of the investigation” into the attack has shifted, adding that they want to conduct another interview with the actor.
The update came after they questioned two Nigerian brothers in relation to the incident, before releasing them without charges.
In response to this, and media speculation that the actor was somehow “involved” in the incident, Smollett’s lawyers have said he is “angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with”.
“He has now been further victimised by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson added.
“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
One of the Nigerian men questioned was Smollett’s personal trainer, who he hired to get him physically ready for a music video, the statement from the actor’s lawyers said.
“It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity,” the statement added.
Police said they combed surveillance video but were unable to find any footage of the attack.
Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.