Feb 1 (Reuters) - Jussie Smollett, an openly gay African-American actor from the television drama “Empire,” on Friday defended as completely truthful the account he gave of being accosted on a Chicago street by men who used racist and homophobic slurs, and said he was cooperating with police.
Smollett issued the statement after remaining silent about the alleged assault since media reports about it first surfaced on Tuesday. The matter is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
“I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level,” Smollett said in his first statement about the incident he reported on Tuesday.
News of the police report spread quickly on social media, with many expressing outrage while others suggesting the story was a hoax.
In a statement emailed to Reuters late Thursday, Chicago police said Smollett had refused to turn over his cell phone records to detectives, although police later said he was working with investigators.
Smollett and his manager have both told police they were on the phone together when the actor, who plays a gay character on “Empire,” was accosted on a Chicago street early on Tuesday by two men shouting racial and homophobic slurs, police said.
According to the account he gave police, the two assailants doused Smollett with some kind of chemical liquid before wrapping a rope around his neck and fleeing the scene. The actor took himself to a hospital but was not seriously hurt, police said.
Police said they sought phone records to independently verify that Smollett was on the phone at the time with his manager, who reportedly told police he heard the attackers saying “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
“Cell phone records were not provided to investigators when asked,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an email to Reuters. “The victim didn’t provide them.”
But police had “no reason to doubt” the accounts of both Smollett and his manager that they were on the phone together at the time of the alleged attack, Guglielmi said.
In a later email, another police spokesman, Officer Michael Carroll, said, “The victim is working with police as we investigate the circumstances of the incident.”
Questions raised about the veracity of his account were troubling, Smollett said in his statement, especially since “these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender-conforming siblings daily.”
“Empire” made its debut on the Fox network in 2015 and has earned multiple Emmy nominations. Smollett plays the character Jamal Lyon, a member of the family who is the focus of the show. (Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)