“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett has pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct related to his involvement in an alleged hate crime hoax.
He appeared before his newly assigned judge, Steven Watkins, in Chicago on Thursday, days after a grand jury indicted him on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to investigators, according to Fox News. His lawyer Tina Glandian entered the plea on his behalf.
Smollett, 36, first reported the attack in January, saying that two men attacked him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs at him. The actor also claimed they wrapped a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.
But a joint investigation by Chicago police and the FBI led authorities to cast doubt on his story. In late February, he was accused of lying about the story and paying the two men $3,500 to help him stage the attack, all because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the show.
After the indictment, one of his attorneys, Mark Geragos, called the charges “prosecutorial overkill,” according to Fox. Smollett is free on $100,000 bond and has maintained his innocence.
Though his character was removed from two episodes of “Empire,” showrunner Brett Mahoney said it’s “too early” to determine his fate for future seasons, should the show return. Smollett’s case, however, has reportedly strained the whole operation.
Smollett’s next court date is scheduled for April 17.