UPDATE 2:25AM: A photo from 2015 (above) has emerged, showing Empire creator Lee Daniels (center) posing with one of the “potential persons of interest” (right) who is in police custody for questioning. So far, no one has been charged with any crime.
Two Chicago brothers who attended Lakeview High School are “potential persons of interest” in the purported hate crime attack against Empire TV star Jussie Smollett in Streeterville early on Jan. 29. The two were detained by Chicago police at O’Hare airport on Wednesday evening as they returned from a trip to Nigeria, according to police department sources. CWBChicago is not identifying the men because they have not been charged with any crime.
Here is the latest:
• At least one of the men has appeared as an extra on Smollett’s show, Empire, which airs on Fox. The older brother has a YouTube channel featuring three audition reels. In one reel, he performs the part of a man who has received the finger of a loved one in the mail from kidnappers.
• The younger brother’s YouTube channel also has various audition reels, including two mock police interrogations that were uploaded less than two weeks before Smollett’s alleged attack.
• CBSChicago reports that an attorney representing the brothers “expects” charges to be filed against them “before 5:45 p.m. Friday” when the typical 48-hour window of opportunity for prosecutors to either prosecute or release an individual will expire.
• The men, who are African-American, shared a residence in Lakeview about three blocks from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s home as recently as one year ago. One of the brothers also lists a home on the South Side. The brothers are listed as co-owners of a now-defunct party store in the Irving Park neighborhood.
|One page of the search warrant receipt issued by police. | Provided
• At 8:47 p.m. on Wednesday, police executed a search warrant at the brothers’ North Side home, seizing electronics, bleach, a red hat, clothing, and more. The search warrant receipt states that police retrieved proof that both men live in the raided apartment. CWB could not immediately confirm that the raid was at the brother’s listed address near the intersection of Ashland Avenue and Belle Plaine Avenue.
• The brother who appeared on Empire has no adult arrests in Chicago since 2014, but the Chicago Tribune reports that he was charged with attempted murder in Cook County in 2011 but later pleaded guilty to aggravated battery. His brother was charged with DUI near their home in 2015 at the age of 21, but he has no other adult arrests in the city since 2014, CPD records show. The outcome of the DUI case was not immediately available.
• A Chicago police spokesperson denied a media report that the two persons of interest worked with Smollett to stage the attack because Smollett’s character was about to be written out of the TV show. A studio executive also denied that Smollett’s role was being axed.
• The brothers flew to Nigeria several hours after Smollett reported being attacked, according to reporting by CBS2Chicago. They were arrested as they returned via O’Hare last night. Their attorney told the station that they have no idea why they are considered to be of interest in the matter.
As CWBChicago previously reported:
Smollett said in an interview aired on Good Morning America today that he believed the two persons of interest seen in the CPD images were the persons who attacked him. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
TMZ also reported that police used “rideshare and/or taxicab records” to identify the “persons of interest” and to track their movements on the night of the purported attack and said the persons being questioned are believed to be the same persons seen in a surveillance image released by police days after the attack.
Given the developments in the case today, CWBChicago is sharing the following tip that we received over a week ago. Parallels being revealed today lend credibility to some of the source’s information.
If the source’s information turns out to be reasonably accurate, it will mean that Chicago police have known the identities of the persons of interest and believed the case to be staged for over a week.
Contacted for comment on details of the tip, Chicago Police Department chief spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi this afternoon said, “Can’t confirm anything. We have active interviews underway.”
Smollett this week turned over “heavily redacted” phone records from the night of the alleged attack. Guglielmi said the submitted documents did not meet the burden of a criminal investigation. Investigators already received Smollett’s complete phone records via a subpoena served on his service provider, according to a source close quoted by CWBChicago on Feb. 4.
A source familiar with the records provided by the Empire star states that Smollett downloaded his phone activity into a spreadsheet and then deleted certain phone calls before handing over the records. “He did the [detectives’] job for them because then they only had to focus on the numbers he deleted.”