Last night, the Chicago police department rebuked the local ABC and CBS affiliates for getting ahead of the story on an alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett. At the time, both had reported that police had arrested two Nigerian brothers as potential suspects in what might have been a hoax. That reporting was “inaccurate,” the police announced.
At least it was at the time. Now the two have been arrested, police say, based on probable cause of having committed a crime. However, neither have been charged in the attack — yet:
Chicago Police say the two men being questioned in the attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett are considered suspects.
Department spokesman Anthony Guglielimi said Friday that the men are in custody and have been arrested based on probable cause that they may have been involved in a crime. But he says they have not charged in the Jan. 29 attack.
Police have identified the men only as two Nigerian brothers. Police have been questioning them since they were picked up by officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday after returning to the city from Nigeria. On Thursday, police served a search warrant at their home.
Guglielmi says at least one of the men worked on “Empire,” but he does not know in what capacity.
Police are still speaking very cautiously about the investigation. They don’t want to use the word “hoax” yet, but they do note that they don’t have any video evidence of the attack either. The local CBS affiliate reports that police found some interesting items in a search of the brothers’ apartment:
“Interrogations will resume today with the two individuals 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. The alleged victim is being cooperative at this time and continues to be treated as a victim, not a suspect. For clarification, the two individuals interviewed are classified as potential suspects. 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,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi stated in an email Friday morning.
That’s quite an intriguing inventory from the search. Both the red hat and the black facemask fit Smollett’s description of the attack, as does the bleach. Needless to say, these are all also fairly mundane items in any household too. It certainly gets cold enough in Chicago to warrant a facemask hat, and bleach is a common item for laundry. The coincidence of finding all these still piques curiosity, as does the police interest in seizing “receipts” from the apartment.
The ABC affiliate reports that they’re hearing more explicitly that the two are being interrogated to determine whether Smollett concocted a hoax. At the moment, however, Smollett is still considered to be a victim:
Multiple sources have told ABC7 Eyewitness News that police are investigating whether Smollett and the two men staged the attack allegedly because Smollett was being written off of “Empire.”
A source familiar with the investigation told the ABC7 I-Team that Smollett failed to appear for an interview with detectives earlier Thursday, but has since spoken with police.
For what it’s worth, though, the purported motive for a potential hoax appears to be ruled out. Fox denied rumors that Smollett was being written off “Empire,” a move which supposedly was the catalyst for an attempt at martyrdom:
The Fox network, which produces and airs “Empire,” issued a statement insisting that “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.”
Hmmm. One could wonder whether Fox is trying to clear the air, or whether they’re trying to cover their own rear ends here.
At the moment, it’s impossible to conclude what — if anything — happened to Jussie Smollett. The arrest of the two brothers from the surveillance video and their connection to “Empire” certainly gives reason for skepticism about Smollett’s claims, but there’s no need to proceed beyond skepticism and jump to a particular conclusion one way or the other. The police seem very interested in getting to the bottom of this, and it’s best to wait until they do so. This is still a good reminder that extraordinary claims such as those made by Smollett require some extraordinary proof. That’s something that conclusion-jumpers should keep in mind the next time.