The brothers detained earlier this week by the Chicago police in connection with the reported attack on the “Empire” star Jussie Smollett were arrested and are now being treated as “potential suspects,” a spokesman for the department said Friday. They have not yet been charged with any crime.
“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,” Anthony Guglielmi, the spokesman, said in a statement.
The arrests reflected progress in an investigation that started at the end of last month, when Smollett told the authorities that he had been attacked early in the morning by two masked men who directed homophobic and racial slurs toward him in downtown Chicago. Smollett also told the police that the assailants had tied a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.
For weeks, the investigators, who treated the case as a possible hate crime, had few leads. They couldn’t find any surveillance footage that showed any attack. However, within days of the reported incident, police released the images of two men who were in the area, whom police considered “potential persons of interest.” After “meticulous investigation with the use of advanced technology, interviews with the victim and witnesses, and transportation records,” the police said, they discerned the two men’s identities and detained them Wednesday night. Also earlier this week, the police searched their home as part of the investigation.
The revelation that at least one of the men appeared on “Empire” (although it is unknown in what role), fueled social media speculation that at least parts of Smollett’s story were not true. However, Guglielmi said that there is “no evidence to say that this is a hoax.”
Gloria Schmidt, a lawyer for the two men arrested, did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment, but did tell CBS Chicago: “They’re really baffled why they are people of interest. They really don’t understand how they even got information that linked them to this horrific crime. But they’re not guilty of it. They know that the evidence is going to prove them innocent. They send their best to Jussie.”
[Read more about Jussie Smollett’s interview on “Good Morning America” and other developments here.]
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more,” Smollett told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “A lot more.”
He also said that he was sure that the men in the surveillance images were the ones who attacked him that night.
“Because I was there,” Smollett said. “For me, when that was released, I was like, ‘O.K., we’re getting somewhere.’ I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
A spokeswoman for Smollett said late Thursday night that the actor had continued answering “routine follow-up questions” from the police during the day. She did not respond to a request for comment on Friday about the men now being considered “potential suspects.”