Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been charged with making a false police report after claiming he was targeted in a racist and homophobic attack.
The 36-year-old, who is black and came out as gay in 2015, made a tearful appearance on Good Morning America this month and said he had been “forever changed” by the alleged assault.
He claimed he was beaten by two masked men in downtown Chicago on 29 January, and told police the attackers shouted racist and homophobic slurs, tied a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical substance on him.
Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report after two brothers, who were earlier deemed suspects, testified before a grand jury.
Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, who are bodybuilders and aspiring actors, have claimed they were paid to stage an attack on Smollett.
CCTV footage shows the brothers buying a red hat and ski mask, which the actor’s alleged attackers were said to have been wearing.
Police said they left for Nigeria on the day Smollett claims he was attacked.
They were picked up at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as they returned from the country last week.
There has been a flurry of activity in the case in recent days, with police conducting lengthy interviews with the brothers.
Their home was searched before they were cleared and released after 48 hours.
Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence they collected, but it has become increasingly clear that serious questions have arisen about Smollett’s account.
Police signalled this on Friday when they announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the probe after the brothers were found.
Police said one of the brothers had appeared on the hit Fox television show Empire, while the Chicago Tribune reports that Smollett follows their bodybuilding page on Instagram.
Smollett’s attorneys said one of the brothers is the actor’s personal trainer, who he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video.
Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours on Wednesday.
Gloria Schmidt said. “There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this.”
She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity.
Detectives then requested another interview with Smollett.
The FBI is investigating whether the actor sent himself threatening letters he claimed he received a week before the attack.
Rumours about Smollett’s potential role in the assault started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police.
Detectives had also said that in a city bristling with surveillance cameras they could not find video of the alleged attack.
Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Senator Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
The actor, who plays gay character Jamal Lyon in Empire, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop.
He added that the masked men beat him and shouted “this is MAGA country” in an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again”.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement on Wednesday saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character is not being written off the show.
The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.
If Smollett is found guilty he could face one to three years in prison.
It would also force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation if he is found guilty.
Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and police on Wednesday, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether the actor attended the meeting.
The attorneys did not reply to requests for comment.
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