Actor Jussie Smollett sought for questioning in attack he reported
CHICAGO — Chicago police said Saturday they have reached out to the attorney for “Empire” star Jussie Smollett because they still want to speak to Smollett after releasing two brothers they had been questioning about a reported attack against the actor.
Twelve hours after calling them “possible suspects,” police late Friday released the brothers without filing any charges, citing “new evidence” they did not disclose.
“Detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a tweet.
Outside the South Side police station where the brothers were held for two days, their lawyer told reporters Friday night that “innocence prevailed” but was vague about why her clients were taken into custody and why they were released.
“My guys are walking home. They are not charged. They are not suspects in this case,” attorney Gloria Schmidt said.
Police sources have said detectives are investigating the possibility that Smollett had the brothers fake the attack around 2 a.m. Jan. 29 in Streeterville. Schmidt has said the brothers have worked with Smollett on “Empire” and use the same gym. Smollett follows the brothers’ bodybuilding page on Instagram.
Pressed about speculation that Smollett set up the attack, Schmidt said, “There’s still a lot of moving parts to this. … I’m not part of Jussie’s defense. I’m not part of what’s going on with him. I can just tell you that my guys (are) innocent of the charge and they’re going home.”
Asked about the “new evidence” police mentioned, Schmidt said, “Obviously I had it. Obviously my clients had it. But I think it took a matter of coordination.” She would not say what that was.
Schmidt was unavailable for comment Saturday. Chicago criminal defense attorney Michael Monico, who is representing Smollett, declined to comment. Efforts to reach the brothers were unsuccessful.
The men were arrested Wednesday night after detectives tracked their movements on surveillance cameras in the Streeterville area, where Smollett says two men shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him, hit him and wrapped a rope around his neck while yelling, “This is MAGA country!”
Smollett, in his first TV interview, said Thursday he believed the two people captured by those cameras are his attackers. “ ‘Cause … I was there,” he told “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
Smollett, who was born in Santa Rosa and lived in Sonoma County as a young child, has told police the attack occurred as he was walking from a Subway sandwich shop to his apartment building. The brothers, who are in their 20s and are black, were tracked down through ride-share records, according to police sources.
The brothers are aspiring actors who have posted auditions online, including a scene in which each of them were interrogated by police for a murder. They signed with the Babes ‘N Beaus Model and Talent Agency in 2016, according to Don Underwood, one of the owners of the Hinsdale-based agency. They each appeared on an episode of NBC’s “Chicago P.D.” last year.
They had roles in the 2017 indie movie “The Worst Nightmare.” One of them also had a part in Spike Lee’s 2015 film “Chi-Raq.”
Neither brother has been credited for work on “Empire,” aired on the Fox network, though the older brother said in a 2015 interview that he played the prison bodyguard for Chris Rock’s character. Rock guest-starred on the Season 2 premiere of “Empire” in 2015.
A week before the attack, Smollett told police he received a threatening letter at work. Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18 and bore two American flag stamps. The letters “MAGA” were written in the upper-left corner of the envelope.
Smollett said a stick figure was shown hanging from a tree with the words, “Smollett Jussie you will die black (expletive).”
“Did I make that up too?” Smollett asked in his interview with Roberts.
Police have not said whether they believe the two incidents are related, and so far they are being investigated separately — the letter by the FBI and the alleged attack by Chicago police.
Meanwhile, production on “Empire” is scheduled to continue next week with a Near West Side shoot, according to information posted in the city’s online film permit database. It’s unclear if Smollett will participate in that shoot. A Fox representative declined to discuss cast schedules.