Police said Wednesday “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett is being investigated as a suspect for allegedly orchestrating his attack last month
"Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony),” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi posted on Twitter.
Chicago police detectives presente evidence to a Cook County grand jury Wednesday afternoon, according to Guglielmi.
The actor told police last month he was attacked in Chicago in the early hours of the morning by two masked men who shouted "racial and homophobic slurs." Police said Smollett described the assailants punching him in the face, pouring a chemical on him and wrapping a rope around his neck.
Police investigated the attack as a "possible hate crime," and outrage online was swift and loud.
Smollett's status as a victim began to shift last weekend after police arrested and interviewed two brothers who were originally identified as suspects after turning up in surveillance footage.
The men told detectives that Smollett, who employed one as a personal trainer, paid them to stage the assault. A search warrant for their residences also turned up a receipt for the rope.
Chicago Police requested another interview with Smollett, and earlier Wednesday, Smollett's legal team met with prosecutors and detectives for a follow-up.
Guglielmi told the Associated Press he was uncertain what was discussed at the meeting. He also declined to confirm reports that subpoenas had been issued for the actor’s phone and bank records. Smollett's attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, declined to comment on the meetings.
The meetings came the same day that celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos officially joined the "Empire" actor's legal team.
Pugh's office told USA TODAY that he and Henderson will remain Smollett's primary attorneys and Geragos, who has represented singer Chris Brown and actress Winona Ryder, will assist them.
Fox, the network behind "Empire," reiterated its support for the actor earlier Wednesday, telling USA TODAY, “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show."
The network's second public statement followed a Deadline report that his role was being scaled back while the Chicago Police Department investigates the possibility that the actor, who is black and gay, orchestrated last month's assault, which was originally characterized as a possible hate crime.
Meanwhile, it was reported Tuesday that the FBI is investigating whether Smollett had any role in a threatening letter addressed to him and containing a white powder later revealed to be pain medication. The envelope was received at the Fox studio in Chicago which serves as the show's production base exactly one week before Smollett reported being assaulted on Jan. 29 in the Streeterville neighborhood.
Although the FBI wouldn't confirm the news, a federal government official who has been briefed but not authorized to comment on the investigation told USA TODAY that the agency's new inquiry is still in the preliminary stages.
Also on Tuesday, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced she was recusing herself from the investigation.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for Foxx, said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Simonton, said that Foxx acted as a go-between for police after Smollett reported that he had been assaulted.
"Shortly after the incident occurred in late January, State’s Attorney Foxx had conversations with a family member of Jussie Smollett about the incident and their concerns, and facilitated a connection to the Chicago Police Department who were investigating the incident,” Simonton said in a statement. “Based on those prior conversations and out of an abundance of caution, last week State’s Attorney Foxx decided to remove herself from the decision making in this matter and delegated it to her First Assistant Joseph Magats, a 28-year veteran prosecutor.”
In a lengthy interview with “Good Morning America” last week, Smollett told Robin Roberts that he believed the letter was linked to the alleged attack.
He said the letter “had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing towards it with the words that said 'Smollett, Jussie you will die,' " he said, adding that in the return address area was simply listed as said "MAGA."
The actor has maintained that he was attacked in Chicago in the early hours of Jan. 29 by two masked men who shouted "racial and homophobic slurs." Police said Smollett described the assailants punching him in the face, pouring a chemical on him and wrapping a rope around his neck.
Last week, a pair of brothers of Nigerian descent in their late 20s who reside in Chicago told detectives that they were paid to stage the attack, a person familiar with the investigation but not authorized to speak publicly told USA TODAY.
Police also found records in the Chicago home of one of the men that showed they purchased rope from a hardware store that was used in the alleged attack, the source said.
The brothers were released Friday with police citing new evidence in the case. They were not charged. Police spokesman Tom Ahern said the brothers met with police and prosecutors Tuesday. They did not testify before a grand jury.
In a statement issued late Saturday, the actor's attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, confirmed to USA TODAY that the star knew the brothers and employed one as his personal trainer.
Smollett was "angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with," his attorneys said in a statement.
Pugh and Henderson added, "He has been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."
Contributing: Maria Puente and Bill Keveney, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Police say Jussie Smollett is a suspect in setting up his own attack