The investigation continues into the alleged attack on Jussie Smollett, an actor on Fox television’s show Empire. Mr. Smollett has reportedly hired Michael Monaco, a high-powered criminal defense attorney, who also represents former Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Smollett is a frequent critic of the president, and he has claimed the attack was perpetrated by Trump supporters. But does his story have legs?
Chicago police have arrested and then released brothers Obabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo; reports on February 15 said the brothers were charged with battery, but then Chicago Police tweeted:
“Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging, and detectives have additional investigative work to complete..”
Misters Osundairo, who live in Chicago, were detained at O’Hare airport on Wednesday after arriving from Nigeria, where they had traveled on the day after the “attack” on Smollett. Chicago police raided their home as well, seizing electronic devices, firearms, and bleach, while serving the search warrant. Smollett had claimed his attackers poured bleach on him.
At least one of the Osundairo brothers worked on Empire with Smollett, and police sources quoted anonymously by Chicagoland Media indicate Smollett is suspected of engaging in a hoax crime with the brothers. The actor followed an Instagram account by one brother, and another of the Osundairos’ social media accounts show one of the brothers exercising in the private gym located in the building where Smollett lives.
With every passing day the claim that MAGA-chanting white men attacked the actor, who is black and gay, all the while shouting racial epithets and homophobic slurs, has lost ground. The odds of this being a real attack on Mr. Smollett continue to rapidly decrease towards zero. Earlier in the week, it’s fair to say that well-informed people of good will could still think that it was indeed an attack and not a hoax. Is that still true? The investigation has revealed facts that now stretch Mr. Smollett’s claim beyond credulity.
Smollett claimed he went for a walk to a local Subway restaurant when two white men started an assault against him by yelling, “Empire fa**ot ni**er” and then punched him in the face, as well as putting a rope around his neck. Later reports to TMZ and other media outlets included the new detail that the attackers said: “This MAGA country ni**er.” Smollett did not report the political nature of the attack to police.
The case attracted skepticism early on, given the unlikely set of coincidences needed to see a couple of violently anti-gay, racist, MAGA-chanting assailants walking around an upscale Chicago neighborhood with bleach and a rope at 2 a.m., all the while the polar vortex dropped temperatures into single digits.
Why, Oh, Why?
In an ABC interview, when asked why he was targeted, Smollett said:
“I come really, really hard against 45 [Trump] … and I don’t hold my tongue.”
There has been speculation online among Chicago journalists that the police had been quite skeptical of Mr. Smollett’s account early on, but have avoided treating him like a suspect due to publicity concerns. The police are under tremendous scrutiny from all corners on this case. Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said:
“We’re closely watching the Chicago PD’s investigation because first, just last week the Dept was locked into a consent decree by a federal judge to address years of misconduct. The Dept’s handling of the #Smollett attack is an early test for the agency.”
Before announcing the Osundairo brothers’ release, Chicago police tweeted an announcement that a planned press briefing on the case would not take place “in the Empire case as our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of #AuroraShooting.” Aurora, a city an hour’s drive West of Chicago was the scene of a mass shooting on Friday.
As they continue to carefully examine the details of the case, there can be little doubt that Chicago police will get to the bottom of what really happened to Jussie Smollett that night, and who is responsible.