Detectives have recovered more surveillance footage of “Empire” actor Jussie Smullett walking in downtown Chicago before and after he says he was attacked by two masked men, but they still haven’t found video of the attack, a police spokesman said Thursday.
Spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said there are hundreds of surveillance cameras in the area, which is home to many high-end hotels and restaurants, and that the hope is that detectives will be able to piece them together to capture most if not all of Smollett’s trip from a Subway restaurant to his apartment at about 2 a.m. Tuesday, when Smollett said the attack occurred.
Guglielmi said piecing together the private and public surveillance video is tedious work that is made more difficult by the fact that the time stamps on various cameras may not be in sync, meaning detectives have to figure out the exact times of events.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle,” he said.
Guglielmi also said police have recovered video that shows the 36-year-old actor walking into his apartment, but that he hasn’t seen it and doesn’t know if Smollett appeared to be in any distress when he arrived home.
He said that Smollett and his manager told detectives they were talking on the phone at the time of the attack, but that Smollett declined to turn over his phone records to the detectives, who routinely ask for such information during criminal investigations.
Meanwhile, police are hoping to identify and talk to the 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.
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. Smollett returned to his apartment afterward and his manager called police from there about 40 minutes later, Guglielmi said. When officers arrived, the 36-year-old actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and the rope around his neck that he said had been put there by his assailant. According to Guglielmi, Smollett later went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital after police advised him to do so.
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.
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.
Guglielmi said Wednesday that detectives, who are investigating the allegations as a possible hate crime, have looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video from that section of the Streeterville neighborhood. But he said they still needed to collect and view more in the hopes of finding footage of the attack or of the men who match Smollett’s description of the suspects.
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. 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.”
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.