'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty

Article Image Update Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty to 16 Charges Lying to Police

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges accusing him of lying to the police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago.

The "Empire" actor, 36, was arraigned before Judge Steven Gregory Watkins, and his attorney entered the formal not guilty plea on his behalf.

In January, Smollett filed a police report after alleging being assaulted by two men who he claimed attacked him for being a gay black man.

Actor Jussie Smollett (C) and team arrive for a court hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse on March 12, 2019 in Chicago.

But in a press conference following Smollett's arrest, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department Eddie T. Johnson claimed that the actor staged his alleged attack to promote his career, and because he was "dissatisfied" with his Empire salary.

A grand jury in Chicago indicted him on 16 felony counts, which his lawyers have called "prosecutorial overkill".

Judge Watkins approved a request from Smollett's lawyers that the actor be allowed to travel freely to NY and California to consult with his bicoastal legal teams.

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Smollett is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct. He is accused of filing a false police report. Chicago police pushed back and accused Smollett of faking the letter as well. He was in court Tuesday for a hearing to determine whether a judge should allow cameras in court.

"As more evidence, such as text messages, phone records, social media records, bank records, surveillance video and the receipt from the purchase of the rope was obtained by investigators, the investigation shifted from a Hate Crime to a Disorderly Conduct investigation [against Smollett]", prosecutors explained in their bond proffer.

In a statement, Smollett's attorney Mark Geragos said while the indictment was "not unexpected".

"Empire" producers made a decision to remove Smollett's character, Jamal, from the final two episodes of the season. Details in some of those statements were different, the indictment says.

"Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed", the indictment states.

Smollett also told police that the assailants "yelled pro-'Make America Great Again' [MAGA] comments" during the attack. But the tide began to turn just days later, when police announced that the trajectory of the investigation had changed, and that Smollett would be treated as a suspect.

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