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Police Say Jussie Smollett Case Shifts

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The investigation into the alleged attack of actor Jussie Smollett has taken another turn. Police had arrested two brothers in Chicago who they were holding as potential suspects in the case, but the men have since been released. A police spokesperson said because of the information these men provided, they now want to speak with Smollett again. The actor is best known for starring in the TV drama "Empire." He told police last month that he was attacked by two men in ski masks who were using racist and homophobic slurs.

Miles Bryan is a reporter with NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. He's been following this case closely. Miles, thanks for being here.

MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What can you tell us about these two brothers who were first considered suspects and then not?

BRYAN: Yeah. Well, the police picked them up midweek last week, and they confirmed that one of the brothers worked on "Empire" - they were returning from Nigeria - and took them in for questioning. And they were questioned for about two days, and they were released and are no longer considered suspects. And the police have now said that information gained during that questioning has changed the course of the investigation. And Jussie Smollett's lawyers acknowledged on Saturday night that Mr. Smollett knows at least one of the brothers and, in fact, that brother trained him for a music video.

MARTIN: OK. So there is some tenuous connection, at least. Can you just remind us what Jussie Smollett says happened that night?

BRYAN: Yeah. He says, a couple weeks ago, he was the victim of a pretty horrific hate crime. He says two men attacked him outside of his apartment here in Chicago, wrapped a rope around his neck, said racist things and attacked him.

MARTIN: So now police say because of the information they got from these two men, they want to bring Jussie Smollett in again. Have they said anything else about the direction this is all turning?

BRYAN: Right. The police, officially, are playing this pretty close to the chest. I mean, the latest information that we've got is that the investigation continues, they have some additional work to do, and they really want to speak to Jussie Smollett again. In a statement on Saturday night, Smollett's team said that, one, they were standing by their story that he was the victim of this hate crime. And they also pushed back against some unconfirmed reports in the media that Smollett might have played a role in his own attack. They said that was absolutely not true.

MARTIN: So they took these, we should say, uncorroborated reports that this was staged. Totally uncorroborated, but his lawyers consider it serious enough that they needed to push back against this publicly.

BRYAN: Yeah. Exactly.

MARTIN: So what other questions are they going to have for Smollett?

BRYAN: You know, this case has been so strange, Rachel, it seems to be changing every couple of hours. I don't think any of us can say for sure. I think we're just at an interesting point now where there's no - these two brothers have been released. They're no longer suspects. And they seem to be - the police seem to be focusing their attention on Mr. Smollett. So I think we're going to have to wait and see what happens once he comes in for questioning and where the police go from there.

MARTIN: OK. Miles Bryan of our member station WBEZ in Chicago sharing the latest reporting on the case surrounding Jussie Smollett, who alleges that he was a victim of a hate crime. Miles, thanks so much for sharing your reporting on this. We appreciate it.

BRYAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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