CHICAGO >> Detectives have recovered more surveillance footage of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett walking in downtown Chicago before and after he says he was attacked by two masked men, including video of him arriving home with a rope around his neck, but they’re still searching for footage of the attack, a police spokesman said today.
The video from a surveillance camera at Smollett’s apartment building showing him arrive home with a rope around his neck is part of a larger effort to obtain as much footage as possible of his walk from a Subway restaurant to his apartment at around 2 a.m. Tuesday.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said detectives, who are investigating the case as a possible hate crime, have pieced together more footage from the hundreds of public and private surveillance cameras in that area of downtown Chicago, which is home to many high-end hotels and restaurants. But they still haven’t found video of the attack or the men who match Smollett’s description of the suspects, he said.
Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox television show, said the men beat him, subjected him to racist and homophobic insults, threw an “unknown chemical substance” on him and put a thin rope around his neck before fleeing. He returned to his apartment afterward and his manager called police from there about 40 minutes later, Guglielmi said. When officers arrived, the actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and the rope around his neck. Smollett later went to a hospital for treatment.
Guglielmi said there are still many more videos for investigators to collect and go through as they try to get a complete picture of Smollett’s walk home. It is tedious work that is made more difficult because the time stamps on various cameras may not be in sync, meaning detectives have to figure out the exact times of events, he said.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he said.
Guglielmi said Smollett and his manager told detectives they were talking on the phone at the time of the attack, but that the 36-year-old actor declined to turn over his phone records to the detectives, who routinely ask for such information during criminal investigations.
Smollett has not spoken publicly about the attack, but his representative told The Associated Press on Wednesday night that the actor “is at home and recovering.”
Meanwhile, police are hoping to identify and talk to two people who were walking in the area at the time of the attack and whose images police released to the public late Wednesday. Guglielmi stressed that the people are not considered suspects and that police want to question them because they were in the vicinity and might have information that could be useful to the investigation.
Reports of the attack drew a flood of outrage and support for Smollett on social media. Some of the outrage stemmed from Smollett’s account to detectives that his attackers yelled that he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to the Trump campaign’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
President Donald Trump, expressed sympathy for Smollett today.
“That I can tell you is horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” the president told reporters when asked about the matter. The spot where Smollett says he was attacked isn’t far from the Trump International Hotel & Tower.
The FBI is investigating a threatening letter targeting Smollett that was sent last week to the Fox studio in Chicago where “Empire” is filmed, Guglielmi said. The FBI has declined to comment on the investigation.
In addition to his acting career, Smollett has a music career and is a noted activist, particularly on LBGTQ issues. Smollett’s representative said his concert scheduled for Saturday in Los Angeles will go on as planned.
Now in its fifth season, the hourlong drama “Empire” follows an African-American family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry. Smollett’s character is the middle son of Empire Entertainment founder Lucious Lyon and Cookie Lyon, played by Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, respectively.
Chicago has one of the nation’s most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses and in train tunnels.
Police say the cameras have helped them make thousands of arrests. In one of the best-known examples of the department’s use of the cameras, investigators in 2009 were able to recreate a school board president’s 20-minute drive through the city, singling out his car on a succession of surveillance cameras to help them determine that he committed suicide and had not been followed and killed by someone else, as his friends speculated.