CHICAGO (AP) — The investigation into black actor Jussie Smollett’s account of being beaten in a racist, anti-gay attack took another turn Friday when Chicago police said two men arrested in the case are also black.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the two were arrested for “probable cause” of committing assault and battery on the “‘Empire’ cast member” but had not been charged as of Friday afternoon. Smollett, who is gay, has said two masked men beat him after shouting racial and homophobic slurs and tied a rope around his neck early on Jan. 29.
The two suspects — whom police previously had identified only as Nigerian brothers — were picked up at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday and taken into custody after returning from Nigeria after police learned that at least one of the men worked on “Empire,” according to Guglielmi. He said he did not know what the man’s job was on the television drama.
He confirmed that a search warrant was executed at the Chicago apartment where the men lived but did not have any information about what exactly what police found.
Guglielmi’s comments followed a furious 24 hours that included local media reports that the attack was a hoax. Police say those reports are unconfirmed. Producers of the television drama also disputed media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show, calling the idea “patently ridiculous.”
Guglielmi reiterated Friday that there was “no evidence to say that this is a hoax” and that Smollett “continues to be treated by police as a victim, not a suspect.”
Smollett told ABC News in an interview that aired Thursday that the men police took into custody on Wednesday were the ones who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him, beat him, threw an undetermined chemical substance and looped a rope around his neck before running off. Smollett has said he was attacked while out getting food at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago.
Guglielmi said police have not found any surveillance video showing the attack itself, though they continue to look for such evidence. He says police also are contacting various retail stores in the hopes of determining who bought the length of rope that was around Smolllett’s neck.
The singer and actor said that the attackers yelled “this is MAGA country,” referencing President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Smollett told ABC News that earlier reports from some outlets that his attackers were wearing “MAGA” hats were inaccurate.
“I didn’t need to add anything like that,” he said. “I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
Smollett said he didn’t want to call police at first, but that his friend and creative director Frank Gatson called on his behalf. Smollett said he didn’t remove the rope from around his neck before police arrived “because I wanted them to see.”
He also said he didn’t initially want to give police his cellphone because the device contained private content and phone numbers.
Smollett later gave detectives heavily redacted phone records that police have said are insufficient for a criminal investigation .