“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty in a Chicago court on Thursday to new charges that he falsely reported to police that he was the victim of a racist and homophobic assault on a city street.
Wearing a navy suit and dress coat, Smollett, 36, appeared serious and quiet standing next to his attorneys as Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to his case.
In a 16-count indictment returned by a grand jury last Thursday, Smollett, who is black, openly gay and plays a gay musician on Fox’s hip-hop drama, was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct alleging he gave false accounts of an attack on him to police investigators.
Each count carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Smollett was previously charged last month with felony disorderly conduct for making a false report after he told police he was attacked in January by masked supporters of President Donald Trump who beat him, slung a noose round his neck and poured a liquid chemical on him while shouting racist and homophobic slurs.
Detectives investigated the incident as a hate crime but local news outlets cited police sources saying it was believed to be a hoax.
The Chicago Police Department is investigating how information about the alleged attack was leaked to journalists.
Fox cut Smollett’s character in “Empire” after he was arrested.
According to prosecutors, Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers and gave them $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the supposed Jan. 29 attack.
Police said Smollett hoped the incident would advance his career and secure him a higher salary.
Police initially arrested the brothers on Feb. 13, after they were recognized from surveillance footage from near the scene of the alleged attack. One had appeared with Smollett on “Empire,” police and their lawyer said. Prosecutors said one had supplied Smollett with “designer drugs” in the past.
The brothers confessed to the plot, police said. They became cooperating witnesses and were released without charges.
After the alleged attack, Smollett received support on social media, including from celebrities and Democratic presidential candidates. Others were skeptical of the incident, which Smollett said occurred at around 2 a.m. on a city street during one of the coldest weeks in recent history.
Outside the courthouse on Thursday, about a dozen supporters gathered with signs, chanting that his prosecution was unjust.
In a “Good Morning America” interview last month, Smollett said he was angry some people questioned his story and suggested racial bias may be behind the disbelief.
Additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama
WATCH: Saturday Night Live airs Christmas special — that’s just one giant dig at the Electoral College
NBC's "Saturday Night Live" aired an opening skit that was just one giant attack on the electoral college.
A snowman introduced the segment, saying that we could look in on the holiday table conversation thanks to hacked Nest cams.
The skit featured a house in San Francisco, California, a second in Charleston, South Carolina and a third in Atlanta, Georgia.
Each dinner table debated impeachment, and the differences between President Donald Trump and his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
But then the snowman said that none of their votes matter.
"They'll debate the issues all year long, but then it all comes down to 1,000 people in Wisconsin who won't even think about the election until the morning of," the snowman said. "And that's the magic of the Electoral College."
Georgia mayor being recalled for racism resigns from office: report
Hoschton Mayor Theresa Kenerly resigned in a special city council meeting held on Saturday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported Saturday.
"The resignation came just days after Councilman Jim Cleveland resigned saying he‘d rather leave office on his own terms than face voters in a recall election next month," the newspaper reported. "Both resignations follow an AJC investigation launched seven months ago into claims that an African American candidate for city administrator was sidetracked by Mayor Theresa Kenerly because of his race."
Nine 2020 Democrats unite to demand DNC Chair Tom Perez scrap debate rules: report
The Democratic National Committee is facing a revolt for the party's 2020 presidential candidates for its restrictive debate rules.
"Nine Democratic presidential candidates, including the party's front-runners, are urging the Democratic National Committee to toss out the current polling and fundraising rules used to determine who appears in televised debates and reopen the exchanges to better reflect the historic diversity of the current field. The candidates say the rules exclude diverse candidates in the field from participating," CBS News reported Saturday evening.