CHICAGO — Chicago’s top prosecutor recused herself from the investigation into the attack reported by “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett shortly after police requested another interview with the actor.
The office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx offered few specifics Tuesday when announcing that Foxx was recusing herself from the case, which police said had “shifted” after detectives released two Nigerian brothers who were initially deemed suspects.
“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,” said Foxx spokeswoman Tandra Simonton, who wouldn’t specify how Foxx was familiar with anyone in the case. Simonton said Foxx would have no further comment.
Smollett has said two masked men hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him before beating him up early on Jan. 29. The actor, who is black and gay, said the men then looped a rope around his neck.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said last week that media reports about the attack being a hoax were unconfirmed by case detectives. But on Saturday, police said the “investigation had shifted” following interviews with the brothers and their release from custody without charges. Police later requested another interview with Smollett.
Smollett’s lawyers have said the actor was angered and “victimized” by reports he may have played a role in staging the attack.
“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said in a statement late Saturday.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett’s lawyers, said they would “keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.” Kavanagh didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
A California misdemeanor complaint against Smollett in 2007 shows the actor pleaded no contest to giving false information to police when he was pulled over for driving while under the influence.
Court records show Smollett was accused of identifying himself as his younger brother and signing a false name on the promise to appear in court. Smollett was later charged with false impersonation, driving under the influence and driving without a valid license. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.
The details of the complaint were first reported by NBC News.
Smollett told police he was attacked while getting a sandwich around 2 a.m. near his home in downtown Chicago. He said the men also shouted, “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” Smollett also said the attackers poured some kind of chemical on him.
Police looked through hours of video surveillance from the area but found no footage of an attack.
Investigators did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question. And last week, police picked up the two brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the apartment where the men live.
The men, who had been held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett, were released Friday. Guglielmi said the next day that information police received from the men “has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”