The two men connected to the alleged staged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett were released without charges late Friday due to “new evidence” resulting from their interrogation, the Chicago Police Department announced.
“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,” Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement.
Earlier Friday, the two men linked to the investigation were identified by the Daily Mail as Nigerian-born actors Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. The pair were arrested and taken in for questioning Wednesday by police officers at O’Hare Airport after returning from a trip to Nigeria to visit family.
Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for the brothers told CBS 2 that her clients could be charged on Friday. “They were actually detained at customs at O’Hare airport yesterday around 5:45 p.m.,” Schmidt said. “They had no idea what was going on, and they’ve been detained since then.”
“When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified. This is someone they know. This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that,” she continued.
The lawyer confirmed Osundairo had been extras on Empire and worked out with Smollett.
“They are really baffled why they are people of interest,” said Schmidt. “They really don’t understand how they even got information that linked them to this horrific crime, but they are not guilty of it.”
On Thursday, Guglielmi told reporters that detectives were questioning the men — but said neither of them were “considered suspects at this time.”
The brothers were reportedly spotted on surveillance footage in the Chicago neighborhood where the alleged incident occurred.
The developments come as police continue to investigate the case, which began with Smollett claiming two masked individuals shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him and doused him with an unknown chemical substance on January 29. The 36-year-old also told police the alleged assailants hung a thin rope around his neck and yelled “This is MAGA country” before taking off.
Guglielmi said Monday they were unable to criminally investigate the alleged incident after Smollett turned over phone records that were redacted. “We are very appreciative of the victim’s cooperation however the records provided do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted,” he said. “Detectives may be following up with him to request additional data to corroborate the investigative timeline.”
Smollett has maintained that he has been truthful about the incident, contending his story has not changed since it took place. “I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” the actor said in a statement to ESSENCE magazine. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”