News & Politics

Persons of Interest in 'Hate Crime' Investigation Are Friends of Smollett, May Have Staged Attack

Persons of Interest in 'Hate Crime' Investigation Are Friends of Smollett, May Have Staged Attack
Jussie Smollett (by: zz/Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/IPx via AP)

See below for updates to this quickly developing story.

Chicago police on Wednesday questioned two persons of interest in the Jussie Smollett hate crime investigation, according to reports. Both are African-American associates of Smollett and both were seen in the surveillance video, according to Fox 32 Chicago correspondent Rafer Weigel. Neither is officially considered a suspect — yet.

“After a meticulous investigation with the use of advance technology, interviews with the victim & witnesses & transportation records, detectives have identified two persons of interest in the Empire cast member case,” Weigel tweeted.

This comes after Smollett said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he believes the two persons of interest seen in the surveillance photos were the persons who attacked him. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did,” he said. During the interview, Smollett also addressed doubts about the alleged attack and broke down in tears over fears that the perpetrators will never be found.

CWB Chicago and TMZ reported Thursday that both persons of interest were apprehended at O’Hare International Airport Wednesday night, according to police sources.

Sources connected to the case tell us the actor, not Jussie, was picked up by Chicago PD Wednesday night right after he flew into O’Hare Airport. We’re told Jussie was brought in Thursday morning for additional questioning. Another man who was with the actor at O’Hare was also taken in for questioning.

According to CWB Chicago, Smollett was also brought in Thursday morning for additional questioning and police have his complete phone records via a subpoena of his provider.

TMZ reported that the persons of interest are an actor who has appeared with Smollett on Fox television’s Empire and a person who was traveling with the second actor. These individuals are believed to be the “potential persons of interest” who were seen in low-quality images released by Chicago police days after the alleged attack, according to a police spokesperson.

TMZ also reported that police used “rideshare and/or taxicab records” to identify the “persons of interest” and to track their movements on the night of the purported attack.

According to CWB Chicago’s source, “Chicago police have known the identities of the persons of interest and believed the case to be staged for over a week,” and have been “intentionally slow-playing the case”:

Update 8:11 p.m. EST: Multiple sources are reporting that Smollett and his friends may have staged the hate crime because his character was being written out of the show “Empire.”

Update 8:26 p.m. EST: 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.”

Update 8:35 p.m. EST: Charlie De Mar of CBS Chicago reported on Twitter that “Police raided the home of two persons of interest in Jussie Smollett case last night. Both men are of Nigerian decent [sic] and have appeared as extras on the show. Police took bleach, shoes, electronics and more.” Officers reportedly asked the family if they knew Smollett.

According to the family, the two men in question left for Nigeria the day of the attack:

Update 9:02 p.m. EST: Police are reportedly questioning the persons of interest in the case:

Update 9:47 p.m. EST: Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer for the Chicago PD, tweeted that reports of a hoax are “unconfirmed” and “inaccurate.”

Update 10:31 p.m. EST: According to CWB Chicago, two Chicago brothers are “potential persons of interest” in the alleged hate crime against Smollett:

• At least one of the men has appeared as an extra on Smollett’s show, Empire, which airs on Fox. That man has a YouTube channel featuring three audition reels. In one reel, he performs the part of a man who has received the finger of a loved one in the mail from kidnappers.

• CBSChicago reports that an attorney representing the brothers “expects” charges to be filed against them “before 5:45 p.m. Friday” when the typical 48-hour window of opportunity for prosecutors to either prosecute or release an individual will expire.

• The men, who are African-American, shared a residence in Lakeview about three blocks from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home as recently as one year ago. One of the brothers also lists a home on the South Side.

• Police on Wednesday executed a search warrant at a North Side home, seizing electronics, bleach, a red hat, clothing, and more. The search warrant receipt states that police retrieved proof that both men live in the raided apartment. CWB could not immediately confirm that the raid was at the brother’s listed address near the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Belle Plaine Avenue.

Conflicting reports continue to come in Thursday night with the official position of the CPD contending that local media stories about a hoax are unconfirmed.

CBS Chicago, meanwhile, is reporting that the two persons of interest are brothers and charges are expected before tomorrow night:

The brother who appeared on Empire has no adult arrests in Chicago since 2014, but the Chicago Tribune reports that he was charged with attempted murder in Cook County in 2011 but later pleaded guilty to aggravated battery. His brother was charged with DUI near their home in 2015 at the age of 21, but he has no other adult arrests in the city since 2014, CPD records show. The outcome of the DUI case was not immediately available.