Sources: Police investigating whether Smollett staged attack with help of others

 abc7chicago.com  02/15/2019 00:03:12 

CHICAGO --

Chicago police confirmed Thursday that detectives are talking to two persons of interest in connection with the alleged attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett.Multiple sources have told ABC7 Eyewitness News that police are investigating whether Smollett and the two men staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off of "Empire."A source familiar with the investigation told the ABC7 I-Team that Smollett failed to appear for an interview with detectives earlier Thursday, but has since spoken with police.Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson contacted ABC7 to say they are continuing to treat Smollett as a victim and the investigation remains ongoing.Chicago police told ABC News, "Police are investigating whether the two individuals committed the attack - or whether the attack happened at all."Smollett released a statement Thursday evening, saying, "Today Jussie did answer routine followup questions for Chicago Police Department and continues to cooperate."Smollett's representatives said he is not being written off "Empire."Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a statement saying, "The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of EMPIRE is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him."A source briefed on the Smollett investigation confirmed to ABC News that Chicago police are questioning the two persons of interest -- one of whom has appeared on "Empire."The law enforcement official also told ABC News that the homes of the persons of interest were raided Wednesday night. Police removed shoes, electronic devices and other items they believe could help them determine if the two people played any role in the assault. Neighbors described a swarm of officers and K-9 units."I was walking in the alley. One police car stopped in the alley, and they told me to go inside the house. By then maybe five minutes later, there were like 20 police right here by the door," said Jaime Figueroa, neighbor.Neighbors said they believe the men, who are Nigerian, are brothers who grew up in that apartment, and have lived there for years. Neighbors described them as friendly and possibly body builders, and said they have long wanted to be actors.Chicago police said they "cannot confirm any of those reports." No charges have been filed.Earlier, police said the two persons of interest are not suspects and have not been charged. Investigators are only talking with them at this time. The two were picked up Wednesday night at O'Hare International Airport, police said.A lawyer who said she's representing the two persons of interest declined to comment on the case as she left Area Central police headquarters.Chicago police told ABC News they were tracking the two persons of interest and were aware of who they were "for a while." Chicago police told ABC News they are both cooperating and have been questioned all day.Smollett said he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in the 300-block of East North Water Street in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood. He told police two masked men shouted homophobic slurs at him, attacked him, put a rope around his neck and poured a liquid on him that smelled like bleach.Thursday night police said phone records provided by Smollett do show he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack. Both men told investigators Smollett's attackers yelled slurs. Smollett, 36, is black and openly gay.

RELATED: Jussie Smollett reflects on attack, aftermath on 'Good Morning America': 'I am not weak'


Police said they have not found surveillance video that shows the attack. But earlier in the investigation, they did release grainy surveillance images of two possible persons of interest. The photos show two silhouettes on New Street near Illinois Street between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 29.In a statement released Thursday, police said they identified the two people in the surveillance photos and tracked them down using cameras, public transportation records and corroborating info provided by Smollett.

RELATED: Bottle with bleach odor found near site of Jussie Smollett attack; 'Empire' actor submits phone records


Smollett spoke exclusively with Robin Roberts on "Good Morning America" Thursday. He reflected on what happened to him that morning and what has happened to him since."It's the attackers, but also the attacks," he said, adding of those who don't believe his story, "It's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth."

Anthony Guglielmi, spokesman for Chicago Police Department, said earlier Thursday morning that he watched the GMA interview with CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson. Guglielmi said Smollett's comments on GMA are consistent with what he's told Chicago police. Unfortunately, police have no solid evidence to arrest anyone at this time.

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