Fox Says Rumor Jussie Smollett Could Be Written Off Empire Is 'Patently Ridiculous'
Almost a month after Jussie Smollett reported that he was the victim of an apparent hate crime, authorities have acknowledged that their investigation into the case has "shifted"
In a new statement, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment tell PEOPLE: “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 statement comes after reports emerged last week claiming detectives are reviewing whether Smollett, who is black and gay, orchestrated the attack on himself.
In response to the speculation that the actor — who has played Jamal Lyon on the Fox show since 2015 — staged his attack in a bid to keep his job, Fox denied that his character was being written off the show.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” the network said in a statement on Feb. 14. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
At the time, Chicago PD also shot down the reports, saying “media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives.”
Smollett reported being involved in a “racially-charged assault and battery” at around 2 a.m. on the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in downtown Chicago on Jan. 29.
Last week, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo — identified in surveillance footage on the night of the incident — were arrested and released without charges. The following day, reports emerged that the brothers claimed the Empire star paid them to stage the incident.
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Chicago PD refused to comment on the speculation that the attack was a hoax but acknowledged that the investigation has “shifted.”
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
In another statement, Guglielmi said the department was “not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what’s been unofficially released,” but said “there are some developments in this investigation” and “detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident.”
Smollett denied the allegations in a statement released by his attorneys: “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now 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.”
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”
“Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate,” Smollett’s attorneys added. “At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”