Empire actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday to allegedly filing a false police report and staging a hate crime.
Smollett told Chicago police that in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 he was attacked by two men who yelled anti-gay slurs, threw a bleachlike chemical on him, put a rope around his neck, and referenced President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
In a February interview with Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, maintained his innocence, saying he was “pissed off” that people doubted he was attacked.
“At first it was a thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, ’cause it’s the truth,” Smollett said of his skeptics. “Then it became a thing of like, oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.”
Earlier this month, a grand jury in Cook County, Illinois, Smollett on 16 felony counts, after finding there was enough evidence of him lying to multiple police officials and filing the false report.
“Jussie Smollett knew that … there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” the grand jury said last week when it indicted Smollett.
When Smollett’s alleged attack was initially reported, the case made national headlines and people supported the actor. As police continued to investigate, it was uncertain how much evidence of the attack there actually was.
“Allegations against Mr. Smollett are shameful & if proven, they are an affront to the people of Chicago who embraced him as a neighbor & respected him as a role model,” Chicago police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.
Mark Geragos, a lawyer for Smollett, said in a statement last week that the charges are “nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines” in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the leaks to the press and invasion of privacy allegations.
Geragos also called the number of charges overkill, and said the indictment was “redundant and vindictive.”
Meanwhile, the future of Smollett’s role on Fox’s Empire remains uncertain. The network has said his character Jamal will be cut from the final two episodes of the season, but he will be included in episodes filmed up until then. Representatives for When reached on Thursday, Fox had no comment.
A representative for Smollett did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Smollett’s next court date was scheduled for April 17.