Two days after the incident, the ongoing investigation into the alleged hate crime targeting “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has raised more questions than it has answered. Pictures of two shadowy figures released last night — Chicago Police are calling them “persons of interest” — will only add to the controversy.
As I reported here at PJ Media yesterday, Smollett claims he was physically assaulted by two individuals wearing ski masks and gloves at 2 a.m. Tuesday in downtown Chicago. They allegedly shouted, “This is MAGA country,” along with other racist and anti-gay slurs. Smollett, who had just visited a Subway sandwich shop, is black and gay and had been a harsh critic of Donald Trump for years prior to his presidential campaign.
But shifting versions of the story told by Smollett have raised questions about what exactly happened.
For instance, Smollett initially was reluctant to make any kind of statement, but in his initial interview with police 45 minutes after the alleged attack, he made no mention of the MAGA claims.
When that element was reported by TMZ and other media outlets, Chicago Police denied the claim. But after contacting him a second time, Smollett expanded his version of the story to include the MAGA element.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that police have reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance video from the heavily monitored area, but found no images of the attack. The city of Chicago operates an advanced linked network of 30,000 closed-circuit cameras around the city, the New York Times reported last May.
Last night, Chicago Police announced they had two possible persons of interest and released shadowy photos of the pair.
Photos of people of interest who were in area of the alleged assault & battery of Empire cast member. While video does not capture an encounter, detectives are taking this development seriously & wish to question individuals as more cameras are being reviewed pic.twitter.com/xJDDygtocr
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 31, 2019
There is no video, however, of the two individuals and Smollett ever being together. The time of the videos is between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m., at least 15 to 30 minutes before the time of the alleged attack, according to local media.
The local ABC affiliate reported:
Police said they have tracked Smollett’s movements that night. They confirmed video shows Smollett walking across the street from the two possible persons of interest. Police said in the video he walks out of frame for about a minute and reappears on another camera “wearing a rope like a neck tie.”
Police said there is no video of an assault. Investigators said he walked into an apartment building, passing security and boarding an elevator. He would then enter an apartment and that’s where police were eventually called.
Reporter Rob Elgas, who has seen the video recording, gave details about what the video shows:
Police say both Smollett and the "persons of interest" walk out of frame (on different cameras). Smollett would reappear on a different camera about a minute later. So basically for about 60 seconds Smollett is not on surveillance camera.
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 31, 2019
The next time Smollett is seen on surveillance camera, he is entering a condo building. Police say he now has a rope around his neck and is "wearing it like a neck tie". About a minute (maybe less) has passed since he was seen on video.
— Rob Elgas (@RobElgasABC7) January 31, 2019
On Tuesday, Elgas reported another odd element to the story: that Smollett was still wearing the rope around his neck when they arrived to interview him — nearly 45 minutes after the incident.
As noted, there is no video of the alleged attack, nor is there any video of the two persons of interest together with Smollett.
Unfortunately, some media outlets got ahead of the facts yesterday, falsely claiming that video of the incident had emerged and that the photos that were to be released were of “suspects.” This included the New York Daily News, whose tweet below got more than 1200 retweets before it was deleted:
Another new angle developed yesterday when Variety reported that Smollett’s music manager, Brandon Z. Moore, claimed he was on the phone with his client at the time of the attack and heard the “MAGA country” comment and the racial slurs.
But oddly, Smollett has refused to let Chicago Police inspect his phone to confirm that the call had in fact occurred.
Concurrent to the Chicago Police Department’s investigation into Tuesday morning’s alleged incident, the FBI is investigating letters sent to Smollett earlier this month at the Fox offices in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Chicago police confirmed that a letter containing an anti-gay epithet and white powder were mailed to the Douglas Park neighborhood Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where “Empire” is filmed, on Jan. 22. The letter, addressed to one of the show’s actors, triggered a hazardous materials call for fire officials, who determined the powder wasn’t dangerous. The FBI has since taken over the probe into the letter — as it was sent through the U.S. mail service — while Chicago police continue to look into the attack, authorities said.
TMZ also reported that Smollett refused 24/7 security at the time the letter was received, claiming that it would be intrusive.
Fox had offered additional security to everyone on set, but Smollett said that the security would interrupt his way of life. He will now have 24/7 armed security after Tuesday’s incident, they added.
With the widespread coverage this story is getting, one might hope that more conclusive details will be forthcoming shortly, given the accusations and attempts of cultural and political point-scoring that have emerged from some corners following this incident.