Actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in court Thursday to accusations that he staged a hate crime and filed a false police report.
The “Empire” actor, 36, was arraigned before Judge Steven Gregory Watkins, and his attorney entered the formal not guilty plea on his behalf. Watkins agreed to allow Smollett to travel to California and New York to meet with his lawyers and set his next hearing for April 17.
Gloria Schmidt, the attorney for the brothers allegedly involved in the incident, was also seated in the courtroom.
Smollett also was in court Tuesday for a hearing to determine whether a judge should allow cameras in court. His legal team said it welcomed cameras due to what it described as “misinformation” leaked to the media since Smollett reported being attacked in January.
“There has been a lot of misinformation in this case that has been presented as fact and evidence against Mr. Smollett, which is demonstrably false,” said Tina Glandian, the attorney for the actor:
“We welcome cameras in the courtroom so that the public and the media can see the actual evidence and what we believe is actually going to be the lack of evidence against Mr. Smollett. And we look forward to complete transparency and the truth coming out.”
Smollett has been indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct by a Cook County grand jury.
Mark Geragos, one of Smollett’s attorneys and a CNN legal analyst, said the actor maintains his innocence and called the indictment “prosecutorial overkill.”
“This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines,” Geragos said.
Smollett reported to police in January that he had been attacked in Chicago in an incident that ended with a noose around his neck. Police initially investigated the case as a possible hate crime.
The counts in the indictment obtained by CNN say Smollett gave statements to a Chicago police officer after the incident and to a detective. Details in some of those statements were different, the indictment says.
The indictment says Smollett told police he was attacked by two men who used racial and homophobic slurs during an attack at 2 a.m.
After police detained two brothers who were “persons of interest” in mid-February, police sources revealed that authorities suspected Smollett knew the men and allegedly had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack. The men were released without being charged.
Smollett has denied any involvement in orchestrating an attack.
Smollett was charged in February with felony disorderly conduct. The judge granted a $100,000 bail, and Smollett paid a $10,000 bond. He was ordered to give up his passport and will remain under supervision until his case is adjudicated.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” Smollett’s attorneys said in February.
The subsection of the Illinois law states: “A person commits disorderly conduct when he or she knowingly … (4) Transmits or causes to be transmitted in any manner to any peace officer, public officer or public employee a report to the effect that an offense will be committed, is being committed, or has been committed, knowing at the time of the transmission that there is no reasonable ground for believing that the offense will be committed, is being committed, or has been committed.”
The producers behind “Empire” decided to remove Smollett’s character, Jamal, from the final two episodes of the season. The decision was made to “avoid further disruption on set,” producers said.
A spokesperson for Fox said Friday the company has no comment.
CNN’s Bill Kirkos and Brad Parks reported from Chicago and Sheena Jones reported from Atlanta. Steve Almasy wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Nick Watt, Sandra Gonzalez and Oliver Darcy also contributed to this report.