Actor Jussie Smollett classified as suspect in criminal investigation





By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) - "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett is being classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by Chicago police for filing a false report stating he was attacked in a hate crime, a police spokesman said on Twitter on Wednesday.

Smollett, 36, last month told police in Chicago that two men shouting racist and homophobic slurs had accosted him on the street and put a rope around his neck. Smollett, an openly gay African-American man, also plays a gay man on the show.

"Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony)," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in statement on Twitter. "Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury."

Lawyers for Smollett did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. An agent for Smollett also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Police had not found any surveillance video of the reported attack, which was initially being investigated as a possible hate crime.

The news of last month's attack sparked outrage on social media, but some questioned Smollett's account when apparent inconsistencies began to surface.

SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE

Detectives last week questioned two unnamed men who surveillance camera footage showed were walking on a sidewalk near where Smollett said he was assaulted. Guglielmi said on Friday the two were released without being charged.

The case took another turn on Tuesday after Chicago police began investigating a tip that Smollett was seen inside his apartment building with the two men who were questioned. Guglielmi later said the tip was "unfounded" and not supported by video evidence.

Police described the charge of filing a false police report as a Class 4 felony, the least serious type of felony charge but one that would call for a prison sentence of one to three years upon conviction.

Twentieth Century Fox Television, which produces Empire, said it had no comment following the Chicago Police Department's announcement that Smollett was under investigation.

Earlier on Wednesday, the studio said: "Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show."

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Chris Reese)

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