‘Empire’ actor says account of attack has been consistent

CHICAGO — “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett said Friday that he has been “consistent on every level” with the police during their investigation into what he says was a racist and homophobic attack on him in downtown Chicago earlier this week.

In his first public comments since he says two masked men attacked him early Tuesday in what police are investigating as a possible hate crime, the black and openly gay actor disputed assertions levelled on social media that he has been less than co-operative and changed his story.

“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” he said in a statement released by an intermediary a day after his family put out a similar statement. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

Smollett, 36, told police that two masked men attacked him along a street in the Streeterville neighbourhood as he was walking home from a restaurant. He said they punched him, hurled racist and homophobic insults at him, poured an unknown chemical substance on him and wrapped a rope around his neck.

That area of downtown Chicago has many hotels and restaurants and has widespread surveillance video coverage, and although police have found footage of Smollett making his way home — including video of him arriving at his building with a rope around his neck — they haven’t found footage of the attack or men fitting his description of his assailants.

In his statement, Smollett expressed gratitude for the “outpouring of love and support” he has received since the attack — even the president weighed in Thursday, calling it “horrible.” But critics have also taken to social media to suggest that Smollett changed his account of what happened and hasn’t co-operated fully with investigators, pointing to what police say was Smollett’s refusal to let detectives go through his phone records to verify that he on a call with his manager when he was attacked.

On Friday, the head of the police department, Superintendent Eddie Johnson, said during an appearance on WLS-TV that even though detectives haven’t found video of the attack, Smollett has been “very co-operative and we have no reason at this point to think he’s not being genuine with us.”

Even though detectives are still collecting and sifting through footage from the many public and private surveillance cameras near the site where Smollett said he was attacked, Johnson said it wouldn’t be unusual that such an attack wouldn’t be caught on video.

Although Chicago has extensive network of cameras, it doesn’t provide full coverage, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi explained. Some cameras rotate and don’t continuously capture footage of the same spots, so there is a good chance that detectives may not find footage of Smollett being attacked, he said.

Guglielmi said he is optimistic that investigators will identify and locate two people they want to talk to because grainy footage shows they were in the area around the time Smollett says he was attacked.

“Somewhere out there there’s a camera that shows them arriving somewhere that they drove or walked to, or got on a bus,” he said, pointing out that the two aren’t considered suspects and that investigators want to talk to them in the hopes that they might have useful information.

Smollett, who plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the Fox television show, is also a musician and activist primarily focused on LGBTQ issues. Advocacy groups planned a Friday evening rally in New York City in support of Smollett and LGBTQ survivors of violence.

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