Persons of interest in Jussie Smollett attack captured on camera, police say
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Surveillance images released Wednesday evening by Chicago police show two “persons of interest” in the alleged racist and homophobic attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
Police officials say detectives are looking to identify and interview the people captured on camera to find out if they were involved in the reported attack or witnessed it. Police aren’t yet calling them suspects as detectives continue to investigate Tuesday’s brutal incident as a hate crime.
The two low-quality images appear to show two people wearing all black clothing, matching the description of the attackers given to police by Smollett. Police say they were walking on New Street near Illinois Street between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. Smollett told officers the attack happened at 2 a.m. about one block away. Not much else can be determined from the photos.
“While the video footage does not depict an assault, the individuals pictured are seen in the vicinity of the alleged criminal incident during the alleged time of occurrence,” said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “Detectives are taking this investigation seriously and urging anyone with any information on the identity of these individuals to contact Area Central detectives.”
Though no video was released of the attack or the events leading up to it, Guglielmi said detectives have pieced together video showing the two persons of interest walking in the same direction as Smollett about the same time he was in the area.
“They could have been the perpetrators, they could have been witnesses, they could have been complete bystanders who didn’t see the incident at all,” Guglielmi said. “There are still a lot more cameras that we have to look at. It’s almost like a digital puzzle. You have to put all of those pieces together and kind of watch them at the same time.”
Until Wednesday evening, police had said detectives did not have enough information to release a description of the attackers despite reviewing hundreds of hours of video from the surrounding area.
Smollett was reportedly attacked around 2 a.m. Tuesday as he was walking back to an apartment after a late-night meal at a Subway restaurant at 511 N. McClurg Court, police said.
Two men indicated they recognized Smollet and yelled racist and homophobic slurs at Smollett in the 300 block of East North Lower Water Street, before they hit him in the face, poured what is suspected to be bleach on him and put a rope around his neck, Smollett told police.
After describing the attackers as men wearing ski-masks and all black clothing in an initial report filed with police, Smollett told detectives in a follow-up interview that the men yelled “this is MAGA country” after they assaulted him.
Smollett was talking to his agent on the phone when the attack started, Guglielmi said. Detectives could not “independently verify” that claim because neither man wanted to turn over their cell phones. But police have no reason to doubt the story, according to Guglielmi.
The manager, identified in news reports as Brandon Moore, told Variety Wednesday that he heard the racial slurs and the “MAGA” quote.
“I heard the scuffle and I heard the racial slur,” he said.
Smollett was treated for lacerations to his face and neck at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and later released.
The block where the attack took place has parking garage entrances but no retail businesses. Police recovered video from various business, residential and police cameras in the wider area, but none until Wednesday showed any possible suspects. Surveillance camera at the Subway shows Smollett at the restaurant.
More than a dozen police detectives, some specializing in hate crimes, are working the case. They asked anyone who has information or witnessed the attack to call detectives at (312) 747-8382 or submit an anonymous tip at cpdtip.com.
Congressman Bobby Rush on Wednesday wrote a letter to the FBI asking the bureau to open a hate crime investigation into the attack.
“As you are aware, crimes of this nature strike fear at the very core of a community and have a long-lasting impact on its members,” Rush wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray. “They are, therefore, rightfully characterized as hate crimes.”
The FBI is already investigating a letter sent on Jan. 22 to Fox and “Empire” offices that used “threatening language” toward Smollett, police said. The letter was laced with some type of white, powdery substance, according to a police spokesman.
A celebrity website, thatgrapejuice.net, published a picture of the letter with the words, “You will die black f–,” written in letters apparently cut from magazines.
The FBI has declined to comment on the case.
Activist Andrew Holmes offered a $2,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Smollett’s attack. Holmes said confidential tips can be called in at (800) 883-5587.