Police: 2 persons of interest released in Jussie Smollett case confirmed to have been on scene; police investigating if attack staged, sources say


Chicago police said Friday night two persons of interest in the alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett are being released without charges.

The men have been confirmed to be the men seen on surveillance images of the scene of the alleged incident. Chicago Police tell ABC News the reason the men were on the scene is now central to the investigation.

“Yes, they are confirmed to be the men on scene by surveillance video,” Chicago Police said. “The reason why they were there is now central to the investigation and we can’t get into that at this time.”

Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi released a statement saying, “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 the individuals are no longer being classified as suspects. The investigation remains ongoing.

The lawyer representing the two men spoke Friday night after their release, saying she and the men gave police new evidence in the investigation.

Friday morning Guglielmi said the two men have a relationship with Smollett. Friday morning police said the two had been classified as suspects and that at the time police believed they may have been involved in a crime.

Multiple sources told ABC7 Eyewitness News in Chicago 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.

“Police are investigating whether the two individuals committed the attack – or whether the attack happened at all,” Chicago police told ABC News.

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 men — one of whom has appeared on “Empire.”

The law enforcement official also told ABC News that the homes of the men 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 are Nigerian brothers who grew up in that apartment and have lived there for years. Neighbors described them as friendly and possibly bodybuilders, and said they have long wanted to be actors.

Chicago police said they “cannot confirm any of those reports.” No charges have been filed.

Police initially said the two persons of interest are not suspects and have not been charged. 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.

On 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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