2 released without charges in Smollett case

 

(Updates with release of suspects)

By Gabriella Borter

Feb 15 (Reuters) - Suspects arrested in connection with an alleged racist and homophobic assault on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett in Chicago were released on Friday, police said.

"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 Chicago Police Department said in a email to Reuters.

The individuals are no longer being classified as suspects, the department said.

A spokesman for the department on Friday night declined to confirm to Reuters whether the individuals released were the two Nigerian brothers police said they arrested on Wednesday at Chicago O'Hare Airport in connection to the attack.

Authorities had previously said only that the pair, whose names have not been released, were persons of interest after they were recognized from surveillance camera footage taken in the area where Smollett said two men shouted slurs at him and put a rope around his neck on Jan. 29.

"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," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.

He has denied a media report on Thursday that said officers were investigating whether Smollett staged the attack because he was being written out of the television show.

"While we haven't found any video documenting the alleged attack, there is 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," Guglielmi said on Friday.

News of the alleged attack on Smollett, a 36-year-old openly gay African-American who plays a gay character on the hip-hop drama "Empire," caused uproar on social media, but some have doubted Smollett's account.

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Jussie Smollett out and about
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Jussie Smollett out and about
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 06: Jussie Smollett speaks at the Children's Defense Fund California's 28th Annual Beat The Odds Awards at Skirball Cultural Center on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)
MIAMI BEACH, FL - JANUARY 21: Jussie Smollett is seen at NATPE Miami 2019 - Tyler Perry Keynote 'Living the Dream: A Career in Content' at the Fontainebleau Hotel on January 21, 2019 in Miami Beach, Florida. (Photo by Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage during amfAR Dance2Cure at Bardot on December 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 02: Jussie Smollett attends The Trevor Project's 2018 TrevorLIVE Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on December 02, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett attends the Black AIDS Institute's 2018 Heroes in The Struggle Gala at California African American Museum on December 01, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Rachel Luna/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Jussie Smollett attends SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations: 'Empire' at The Robin Williams Center on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Jussie Smollett is seen in Midtown on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Actor and activist Jussie Smollett visits Build Series to discuss the TV show 'Empire' and his work for charitable causes at Build Studio on November 14, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Jussie Smollett performs onstage at Espolòn Celebrates Day of the Dead at Academy Nightclub on November 1, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tasia Wells/Getty Images for Espolòn)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 16: Jussie Smollett attends a meet & greet at Bloomingdale's on October 16, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22: Jussie Smollett speaks during the 'Empire' season 5 world premiere during the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival at Spring Studios on September 22, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Dominik Bindl/Getty Images for Tribeca TV)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Jussie Smollett attends the Entertainment Weekly Pre-Emmy Party 2018 at Sunset Tower Hotel on September 15, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 30: Actor Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards at Woodruff Arts Center on August 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for BMI)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 02: Fergie (L) and Jussie Smollett attend the FOX Summer TCA 2018 All-Star Party at Soho House on August 2, 2018 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JULY 07: Actor/singer Jussie Smollett attends the 2018 Essence Festival - Night 2 at Louisiana Superdome on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 22: Jussie Smollet performs during Acoustically Speaking, sponsored by M&Ms, during the 2018 BET Experience at Los Angeles Convention Center on June 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Maury Phillips/Getty Images for BET)
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In an interview with "Good Morning America" that aired on Thursday, Smollett said he was angry that some people questioned his story, and he suggested the disbelief might come from racial bias.

The two men know Smollett from working on "Empire" and were picked up at the airport on Wednesday after returning from Nigeria where they were visiting family, their lawyer Gloria Schmidt told Chicago TV station CBS2.

Schmidt could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.

Twentieth Century Fox Television, the producer of "Empire" released a statement on Thursday saying the idea that Smollett has been, or would be, written out of the show was "patently ridiculous," and that they continue to stand behind him. (Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Brendan O'Brien Editing by Alistair Bell and Susan Thomas)

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