Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to all charges accusing him of staging attack

The "Empire" actor is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct and making a false report.
Image: Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago
Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago on March 14, 2019.Kamil Krzaczynski / Reuters

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By Samira Puskar and David K. Li

CHICAGO — "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges that he staged a phony racist, homophobic attack.

During a brief hearing before Cook County Circuit Judge Steven Watkins, Smollett's defense was handed a copy of the indictments against him and the actor agreed to be in court for every hearing.

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The judge also granted Smollett permission to travel freely to New York and California to meet with his attorneys there.

The 36-year-old Smollett, who wore a blue suit and fashionable overcoat on Thursday, declined to answer questions as he strolled past reporters after court was adjourned.

In a 16-count indictment charging him with disorderly conduct and making a false report, Smollett is accused of lying to police and making up a story that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 in Chicago.

Smollett, who is black and gay, staged the elaborate ruse because he's unhappy with his "Empire" salary and wanted to promote his career, authorities said.

Each charge is punishable by as little as probation and as much as three years behind bars.

Smollett is due back in court on April 17, when Smollett's defense team is expected to learn more about the evidence prosecutors plan to use in trial.

Puskar reported from Chicago and Li from New York.