Police release two men they arrested in attack of actor Jussie Smollett
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The two men arrested in connection with the reported attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett were released without charges Friday evening after spending two days in the custody of Chicago Police.
The men were released after new evidence came to light as detectives interrogated them, according to Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
“Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” Guglielmi said in a tweet.
The attorney representing the men, Gloria Schmidt, said outside a South Side police station that “justice prevailed” for her clients.
“My guys are walking home,” Schmidt told reporters. “They are not charged. They are not suspects in this case.’’
The men, who are brothers, were picked up by police at O’Hare Airport Wednesday night after they returned from a trip to Nigeria, Schmidt said, confirming previous reporting from the Chicago Sun-Times.
Initially considered “persons of interest,” they were arrested while being questioned by detectives Friday morning. Earlier in the day, Guglielmi said: “Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime, and we are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues.”
But Friday night police said the two are no longer being classified as suspects.
Detectives had believed the men were the same people shown in a surveillance image released by police days after the purported attack, Guglielmi said. Police thought the men had yelled racial and homophobic slurs during the incident, which had been investigated as a possible hate crime.
The men’s identities were not officially released, though several gossip websites published their names after they were taken into custody.
Before the brothers were released, Schmidt told reporters that their arrests came as a surprise because her clients knew Smollett.
“They have worked with him on ‘Empire,’” she said. “… They’re baffled why they are people of interest.”
Schmidt said she advised the brothers not to speak to the media Friday night but that they will eventually “tell their story.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that police are investigating the possibility that the reported Jan. 29 attack was staged. However, a police spokesman on Friday again stressed that “there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax.”
“The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect,” Guglielmi said of Smollett.
Smollett has told police that he was walking in the 300 block of East North Water Street about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 when two people walked up to him, yelled the slurs, hit him in the face, poured a substance — suspected to be bleach — on him and put a “thin, light rope” around his neck.
The actor initially was “reluctant” to call police because of the attention he would generate as a public figure, police said. But his manager eventually called about 40 minutes after the attack.
The actor said he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack. His manager has said that he could hear the attack over the phone and was able to hear the phrase “MAGA country” — the acronym from President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Thirteen days after he reported the attack, Smollett turned over “limited and redacted” phone records from that day to police, though investigators determined they were insufficient to conduct a criminal investigation.
Separately, a letter that the FBI is investigating was sent on Jan. 22 to Fox and “Empire” offices and used “threatening language” toward Smollett, police said. The letter was laced with some type of white, powdery substance, according to Guglielmi.
A celebrity website, GrapeJuice.net, published a picture of the letter with the words, “You will die black f–,” written in letters apparently cut from magazines.
Contributing: Matt Hendrickson, Nader Issa and Frank Main