Police have identified two persons of interest in their investigation into an alleged racial and homophobic attack against "Empire" actorin Chicago last month. Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email the persons of interest were identified using "advance technology, interviews with the victim and witnesses and transportation records."
Guglielmi tweeted that the persons of interest are not considered suspects, but were believed to be in the area of the alleged Jan. 29 attack and are being questioned by detectives. Guglielmi told The Associated Press that the two men are the same people shown walking in surveillance photos released by police the day after the attack was reported. He didn't release their names.
Smollett, who is gay, has said he was walking to a Subway restaurant around 2 a.m. Jan. 29 when he was attacked by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hung a rope around his neck and poured bleach on him. In his first interview about the incident, Smollett gave a detailed account of the attack on Good Morning America Thursday, saying the first attacker was masked and he only glimpsed the second attacker as he ran away. He said he fought back and later gave police a description as best as he was able.
Chicago police have said Smollett, 36, has been cooperative and they consider him to be a victim in the case. But as days passed with no video of the incident or suspects emerging, questions have swirled online and in the media about Smollett's account. On GMA, Smollett blasted those who have doubted him, insisting his story has remained consistent.
"I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate. And 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 much more. A lot more," Smollett told GMA.
Smollett said the attack has left him "forever changed."
"I will never be the man that this did not happen to," Smollett said.
Smollett told GMA he believes the two men seen in the surveillance video are his attackers. He grew emotional when asked how he would heal if the men are never found.
"I understand how difficult it will be to find them but we gotta," Smollett said. "I still want to believe with everything that has happened, that there's something called justice."
Smollett blasted inaccurate media reports, including that he said his attackers were wearing "MAGA" hats, an acronym for President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. He said the attackers yelled "this is 'MAGA' country," but never said they were wearing "MAGA" hats.
"I didn't need to add anything like that," he said. "I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae."
He also said he resented the inaccurate narrative that the attack stemmed from a "date gone bad."
"I'm not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That's ridiculous. And it's offensive," Smollett told GMA.
When asked why he initially hesitated to call police, Smollett said "there's a level of pride there."
"We live in a society where as a gay man we are considered to be weak," Smollett said. "I am not weak, and we as a people are not weak."
Smollett said his friend and creative director, Frank Gatson, called police for him. Smollett told GMA he kept the rope around his neck as he waited for police to arrive because "I wanted them to see."
Police are investigating where the rope may have originated, reports CBS Chicago. Sources also told the station police are police are investigating a hot sauce bottle with clear liquid found near the scene that smelled of bleach.
Speaking to GMA, Smollett said he didn't turn over his phone to investigators because it contained personal information and numbers for friends, family and cast mates. Smollett turned over "limited and heavily redacted" phone records to police detectives Tuesday, CBS Chicago reports. Smollett told GMA he was on the phone with his manager when the attack happened.
Guglielmi said Smollett turned over a PDF file containing a redacted record of phone calls, but he said the redactions were "extreme," according to the station. Police have said the records are insufficient for a criminal investigation.
In a statement, Smollett's lawyer said the redactions were "intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack."
"Jussie is the victim here, which has been stated by the Superintendent of Police. Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police," the statement said. "Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie's account of what happened that night consistent and credible. Superintendent Johnson has been clear from day one that Jussie is a victim. We are continuing to work closely with the Chicago PD and remain confident that they will find Jussie's attackers and bring them to justice."