A neighbor of Jussie Smollett — the "Empire" actor who claimed he was beaten in a racist, homophobic attack on a freezing Chicago street in the middle of the night last month, after which no video of the alleged attack has been found — cast doubt on Smollett's story.
"I don't believe it happened the way he said it did," Agin Muhammad, who lives in the apartment complex as the actor, the New York Post reported. "I've been in this neighborhood five years. I don't believe it, not around here. … Half the people are gay and the other half are black."
A patron at Lizzie McNeill's Irish Pub — about a block from the scene of the alleged Jan. 29 incident — told the paper that Smollett's account "doesn't really make sense."
"It's a lie, because Chicago is the most liberal city around," the man told the Post without giving his name. "They have cameras everywhere. … Why can't they find the attack?"
What's the background?
Numerous media outlets ran with a TMZ report saying the actor was beaten up after walking out of a Subway restaurant around 2 a.m. by two white men wearing ski masks who asked, "Aren't you that f***ot 'Empire' n*****?" before pouring bleach on him, putting a noose around his neck, and yelling, "This is MAGA country!"
Chicago Police told TheBlaze there was "no mention of MAGA" in initial reports, but when detectives followed up with Smollett later on the day of the attack, he recalled the offenders making those comments, and detectives completed a supplemental report.
Smollett's music manager, Brandon Z. Moore, told ABC News he was on the phone with Smollett during the attack and that he heard "MAGA country" spoken: "I heard that clearly. I heard the scuffle, and I heard the racial slur."
Chicago police told the network they spoke with Moore and that his account is in the police report — but they haven't yet confirmed it with phone records. Police added to ABC News that Smollett and Moore told them they were on the phone together.
Smollett won't turn over phone
But police said Sunday that Smollett hasn't turned over cellphone data to verify that he was on the phone with Moore at the time, which allegedly took place at an underpass between the Sheraton and Loews Chicago hotels, the Post said.
"We have no reason to doubt the statements, but for a criminal investigation, we need to independently confirm the phone records," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi added to the paper. "We offered to take the phone to download the data, and he expressed he couldn't be without his phone for several hours."
Police didn't specify the race of the alleged suspects but did call it a "possible racially charged assault and battery" and that they are "treating it as a possible hate crime."
Smollett reportedly was wearing rope 'like a necktie'
Police told ABC News that Smollett was seen on camera walking into an apartment with a rope around his neck and "wearing it like a necktie" before calling cops from inside the building.
CBS News said "when police got to his apartment, they said a noose was still around Smollett's neck."
Rob Elgas of WLS-TV in Chicago reported that "when Smollett contacted police at 2:42AM, he was still wearing the rope around his neck. The alleged encounter occurred at 2AM. Police have the rope and it will be analyzed."
Other curious details:
- According to another tweet from Elgas, "Smollett requested responding Chicago police officers turn off their body cameras as they arrived to take his report. A spokesman says this is not uncommon when officers enter a private residence."
- Elgas added that Chicago police have a security image of Smollett alone inside a Subway sandwich shop near the location of the reported crime, and that cops also obtained additional video placing him at the scene of the crime.
- But sources told CBS News they've seen security video of Smollett outdoors early Tuesday morning and "nothing of an assault."
- The weather in Chicago at midnight Jan. 29 — two hours before the alleged attack — showed a low temperature of 1 degree with 14-mph winds.
Guglielmi told The Associated Press that detectives have looked at hundreds of hours of surveillance video from businesses and hotels in the heavily monitored area and are expanding the search to include footage from public buses and buildings beyond the scene's immediate vicinity in the hopes of spotting the individuals who match Smollett's description.
"We haven't seen anybody, at this point, matching the description he gave," Guglielmi added to the AP.
Although police have asked for help from the public in identifying two persons of interest from surveillance recordings near the site of the attack near the time it occurred.
The AP added that Chicago has one of the nation's most sophisticated and extensive video surveillance systems, including thousands of cameras on street poles, skyscrapers, buses, and in train tunnels — and that police said such cameras have helped them make thousands of arrests.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters that if police suspect Smollett's story is a hoax, he will be held accountable.
A threatening letter and drawing to Smollett was sent to the Fox television studio in Chicago on Jan. 22, police told ABC News, and it contained a powdery substance that investigators believe was likely crushed-up Tylenol.
The Post said last week it traced Smollett's likely route to the underpass from a 24-hour Subway sandwich shop where he bought a tuna sandwich and a salad, and that near the foot of a stairwell to the Loews, the paper found an empty hot sauce bottle that was partially filled with a clear liquid that smelled like bleach.
Guglielmi told the Post that after police seized the bottle it was turned over to the FBI for analysis; the FBI declined to comment.
What has Smollett said?
"There's a lot of stuff that's been said about me that's absolutely not true," Smollett said during a previously scheduled show at the Troubadour club in Los Angeles just a few days after the alleged attack. "I was bruised, but my ribs were not cracked. They were not broken.
"I went to the doctor immediately. Frank Gatson drove me. I was not hospitalized," he added. "Both my doctors in L.A. and Chicago cleared me to perform, but said to take care, obviously."
Smollett also told the cheering crowd that "above all, I fought the f*** back. I'm the gay Tupac."
Earlier during the show Smollett told the crowd that "I'm gonna stand strong with y'all, and I had to be here tonight ... I couldn't let those motherf***ers win."
Here's the clip. (Content warning: profanity):