Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to renewed hoax charges

His appearance came almost a year to the day that prosecutors dropped similar charges against him, sparking national debate.
Image: Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett arrives for an initial court appearance at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago Feb. 24, 2020.Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

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By Janelle Griffith

Actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Monday morning during an arraignment in Chicago on new felony charges that accuse him of staging and falsely reporting a racist, homophobic attack against himself last year in the city's downtown, allegedly in a bid to advance his career.

His appearance came almost a year after prosecutors dropped similar charges against him, sparking national debate.

The new six-count indictment charges him with disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police. It was announced Feb. 11 by Dan K. Webb, a special prosecutor who was assigned to the case.

The former "Empire" actor is also facing a lawsuit in federal court where the city of Chicago is seeking to recover the $130,000 spent investigating the case.

Smollett has maintained his innocence. He was flanked by his attorneys and family as he entered and exited the courthouse.

The actor, who is black and gay, told police on Jan. 29, 2019, that he was attacked by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck at about 2 a.m. near his apartment in the upscale neighborhood of Streeterville. He also alleged that his attackers poured a chemical, possibly bleach, over him.

Brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who say they were hired by Smollett to participate in the staged attack, were also in Chicago's main criminal courthouse Monday for his court appearance. The bodybuilding brothers had been arrested in February 2019 on suspicion that they may have been involved in a crime, but were not charged in the attack. Police said Smollett was unhappy with his salary on the Fox television show “Empire,” which dropped him from the cast after his arrest.

Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo's attorney, Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, told reporters after the arraignment that the brothers, whom Smollett knew from the "Empire" set, will testify if they are asked and that they have been interviewed by the special prosecutor.

"The brothers are sorry for their involvement and they’re going to do whatever they can," Schmidt said. "They feel glad that the process is moving forward."

Smollett's attorneys also addressed reporters outside of court Monday afternoon.

"This morning we filed a motion to dismiss the indictment challenging the appointment of a special prosecutor in the first place," on the grounds it was legally flawed, said attorney Tina Glandian.

The defense team also filed a separate motion to dismiss the case against Smollett on double jeopardy grounds.

Glandian said Smollett is "obviously frustrated."

"He’s strong, he’s resilient, he’ll get through this, but it’s obviously frustrating," Glandian said.

Asked what she made of the Osundairo brothers observing Monday's proceedings, Glandian said: "I was surprised. There was obviously no reason for them to be here. I’ll leave it to your own judgment as to why they were here."

Samira Puskar contributed.