Police dispute hoax rumors, have ‘potential suspects’

Chicago police continue to stress they do not believe the Jan. 29 attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was a hoax. 

Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department, reiterated this to USA TODAY in an emailed statement Friday. 

“Interrogations will resume today with the two individuals (potential suspects) and their attorney. While we haven’t found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is also no evidence to say that this is a hoax,” said Guglielmi. “The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect.” 

Guglielmi said the individuals have been classified as “potential suspects” noting: “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.” 

He also said that search warrants were served on the potential suspects’ Chicago homes.

The Associated Press reports the men – which the news service says police identified as a pair of Nigerian siblings – have been questioned since they were picked up Wednesday at O’Hare International Airport. Guglielmi reportedly told AP at least one of the duo worked on Smollett’s series in an unknown capacity.

As questions and rumors arose Thursday 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, Chicago 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.  

More: Jussie Smollett recounts violent attack on ‘GMA’: I saw the rope ‘and I started screaming’

In a tweet Thursday, 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 Chicago ABC reporter who tweeted the initial report of sources saying the attack was a hoax later tweeted 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 that the actor answered “routine follow-up questions” from Chicago police Thursday 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.” 

MORE: Black LGBT community faces amplified risks

“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, Erin Jensen, Aamer Madhani and The Associated Press


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