CHICAGO— Police said Friday they have arrested two brothers in last month’s attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in the Windy City.
Police said in a statement that the brothers were taken into custody on “probable cause that they may have committed a crime” in the reported Jan. 29 attack on Smollett. The men, who have not yet been charged, have attorneys and were being interviewed by investigators.
Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman, pushed back against earlier media reports suggesting the attack was a hoax.
“Interrogations will resume today with the two individuals (potential suspects) and their attorney,” Guglielmi said in an email. “While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax. The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.”
Guglielmi said detectives were working to corroborate Smollett’s allegations and establish a timeline of how the attack unfolded.
The suspects are brothers of Nigerian descent, and were picked up Wednesday by Chicago Police at O’Hare International Airport after returning from travel, according to a police department source who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the ongoing investigation. At least one of the suspects worked on the set of “Empire,” the source told USA TODAY.
Guglielmi said that search warrants were served on the potential suspects’ Chicago homes.
As questions arose this week around Smollett’s claim that two men attacked him last month, the TV network and studio behind the Fox drama gave its full support to the actor and musician.
In addition, police disputed a TV news report that cited multiple anonymous sources saying Smollett staged the attack because he was being written out of the show.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the Chicago-based family drama, sent USA TODAY a statement Thursday in response to a question raised in a Chicago TV news report that multiple anonymous sources were saying Smollett staged the attack because he was being written out of the show.
“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,” the statement said.
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Guglielmi disputed the tweet by a reporter from Chicago’s ABC affiliate, which said sources were saying that Smollett and two men staged the attack and were being questioned by police. Guglielmi said the Chicago police superintendent told the news outlet that its sources are “uninformed and inaccurate.”
“Media reports (about) the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives. 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,” Guglielmi’s tweet said.
The ABC 7 Chicago reporter who tweeted the initial report of sources saying the attack was a hoax later took to social to media to say that Johnson had called the station to say Smollett “is considered a victim and the police investigation” is continuing.
Smollett’s representative, Pamela Sharp, told USA TODAY Thursday that the actor answered “routine follow-up questions” from Chicago police and “continues to cooperate.”
Earlier Thursday, ABC’s “Good Morning America” aired portions of an interview Smollett gave to anchor Robin Roberts. The actor, who is black and openly gay, recounted details of the attack, which he said included racist and homophobic slurs, and also said those doubting him “don’t even want to see this is the truth.”
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“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would’ve supported me a lot more, and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now,” he said.
Contributing: Cydney Henderson, Andrea Mandell, and Erin Jensen. Madhani reported from Chicago.