Details about the investigation into the racist and homophobic attack against Jussie Smollett are getting complicated.
According to reports, the two men who were captured on surveillance footage the night of the Streeterville attack were met by police at O’Hare Airport on Wednesday night and brought in for questioning. They have been described as “persons of interest” not suspects, but Smollett told GMA that he was certain the men in the tape were the ones who attacked him on January 29.
Although Jussie Smollett has maintained that the men who shouted “This is MAGA country” and tied a noose around his neck during the attack were white, the two “persons of interest” are Black brothers from Nigeria who have reportedly worked as extras on EMPIRE and spent time with Smollett at the gym.
Gloria Schmidt, the attorney representing those two men in the case, told CBS 2 in Chicago her clients have been in custody at Area Central detective headquarters since Wednesday night.
“When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified. This is someone they know. This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that,” she said.
Shortly after reports surfaced that police were questioning two persons of interest in the case, multiple reports claimed police believe the racist and homophobic attack against the actor was staged because his EMPIRE character was being written off the show.
Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago police spokesman denied the reports on Twitter.
“Media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” he wrote. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
On Thursday, Rob Elgas of ABC 7 in Chicago reported that “multiple sources” alleged Jussie Smollett and staged the incident because his character was being written off of the FOX series, EMPIRE. Brad Edwards, a reporter at CBS Chicago, wrote about a source who said investigators believed the “non-cooperating 2 witnesses are co-conspirators in a potentially staged attack.”
FOX denied the notion that Smollett’s character was being written off of the show and continues to stand behind the actor.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of ‘Empire’ is patently ridiculous,” the network said in a statement on Thursday. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
“He’s been very cooperative and very consistent,” Smollett’s publicist, Pamela Sharp, said of the “ridiculous rumors.”