Two Nigerian men who were arrested originally as “persons of interest” in the alleged hate crime against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett and then labeled “potential suspects” by Chicago police have been released without being charged with a crime.
The two men, according to ABC7 Chicago, were the ones seen on surveillance video images released earlier.
"Yes, they are confirmed to be the men on scene by surveillance video," Chicago Police told the media outlet. "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 also gave ABC7 a statement and said the two individuals were no longer classified as suspects.
"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," the statement said.
Gloria Schmidt, the attorney representing the two men — brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo — said the new evidence referenced by the police was given to them by her clients. The two men allegedly had a previous relationship with Smollett and one had appeared as an extra on “Empire.”
Even though the two men have been released, there is no indication police believe the alleged attack was staged. Previously, ABC7 reported that police were investigating whether Smollett staged the attack with the two men because he was being written off of “Empire,” but spokespeople for the TV show said there were no plans to eliminate Smollett’s character.
“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,” Twentieth Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson assured ABC7 that Smollett is still being treated as a victim.
A TMZ “photog” asked Schmidt, the attorney for the two now released men, if the attack was staged. “[S]he answered obliquely, saying there were moving parts and she didn't want to speculate,” the outlet reported.
TMZ also reported that Schmidt said her clients would tell their story “when the time is right,” and couldn’t answer a question as to why the two men left the country for Nigeria on the day of the alleged attack.
In late January, Smollett, while walking back from a Subway sandwich restaurant around 2 in the morning, was allegedly attacked by two men wearing masks who tied a rope around his neck, poured a liquid on him that smelled like bleach, and allegedly hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him. Surveillance footage from the night shows nearly all of Smollett’s trip that night except for about 60 seconds where the attack is alleged to have occurred.
Police raided the home of the two men who were arrested and reportedly confiscated some bleach. The investigation is ongoing, as police are still trying to track the origins of the rope placed around Smollett’s neck.