Chicago police have released blurry surveillance images of “potential persons of interest’’ they want to question about an alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in Streeterville this week.
The pictures show two people walking down the street near where Smollett said two men approached him early Tuesday, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a rope around his neck. The images are dark and do not show any attack. Their faces are not clear at all.
The pictures came from a surveillance camera on New Street near Illinois Street and were taken between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on Fox’s “Empire,” said he was attacked about 15 to 30 minutes later around the corner, in the 300 block of East North Lower Water Street.
“They are outside on a street walking,” said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “They are in the area that we have determined it could have taken place… in the time and the area. It certainly leads us to have questions for them.’’
He said detectives “still have a lot more cameras to look at. But now that we’ve got potential persons of interest, the focus will be following their paths. Where did they come from and where did they go?”
Smollet said he had just left a Subway when the men approached and yelled the slurs. Smollett is black and openly gay. Smollett told police he was hit and a chemical — maybe bleach — was poured on him. They put a rope around his neck and yelled, “This is MAGA country,’’ he told detectives.
Police were called about a battery just after 2:30 a.m. A friend of the actor told responding officers that “a noose was placed over the friend’s neck.” Police said Smollett went to Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was treated for lacerations to his face, according to Guglielmi.
Smollett said he was on the phone with his manager during the attack, but both of them have refused to turn over their phone records, according to Guglielmi.
“Both the victim and his manager have made statements to detectives that they were on the phone with each other,” he said in an email. “We were not able to independently verify that because they did not turn over cell phone records to police when asked.
“That being said, we have no reason to doubt the statements given, and the reason that detectives requested cell phone records is because the manager and the victim have a financial relationship with each other,” he added. “Because of that, independent verification was needed for the investigation.”
Meanwhile, detectives are expanding their search for videos to along the Chicago riverfront. “Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline,” Guglielmi said.
A week before the alleged attack, a containing white powder and making racial and homophobic threats was mailed to Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where “Empire” is filmed. The letter, addressed to one of the show’s actors, triggered a hazardous materials call but fire crews determined the powder wasn’t dangerous.
The FBI has since taken over the investigation into the letter while Chicago police continue to look into the attack, authorities said.
“Empire,” which premiered on the Fox network in 2015, is a musical drama that films in Chicago for most of the year. The series stars Terrence Howard, Taraji P. Henson and Bryshere Gray. Smollett plays a gay musician. He has emerged as an activist for LGBTQ rights and HIV education.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Area Central detectives at 312-747-8380 or report it anonymously to cpdtip.com.