By Brendan O’Brien
CHICAGO (Reuters) – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty on Monday to renewed felony charges that he made false reports to Chicago police about being attacked in a hate crime that he is accused of staging in a bid to advance his career.
At an arraignment in Cook County Circuit Court in Chicago, Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, entered not guilty pleas to each of six counts of disorderly conduct on which he was indicted on Feb. 11.
The new charges emerged after a five-month investigation by a court-appointed special prosecutor who overruled a decision by the state’s attorney’s office last year to dismiss the original case.
Smollett, wearing a black jacket, white shirt and black tie, spoke at the hearing only when Judge James Linn asked him a series of procedural questions to which he answered, “Yes, sir.”
He was released on $20,000 bond.
The 37-year-old actor, who is black and openly gay, has insisted he told the truth in his account of being accosted on a darkened street in January 2019 by two masked strangers.
According to Smollett, his two assailants threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for President Donald Trump.
Police arrested Smollett a month later, accusing the actor of paying two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack in a hoax aimed at gaining public sympathy and raising his show-business profile.
The brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, “are committed to testifying if they are asked to do so,” their attorney, Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, told reporters in the lobby of the courthouse on Monday.
Smollett was charged in March 2019 in a 16-count indictment, but the Cook County state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges three weeks later in exchange for forfeiting his bail without admitting wrongdoing.
The dismissal drew an outcry from then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the city’s police superintendent, who branded the reversal a miscarriage of justice, leading a Cook County judge to appoint former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to review the case.
Webb said he determined that further prosecution of Smollett was warranted, calling into question prosecutors’ judgment in dropping the original case but finding no wrongdoing on their part. Webb said he was continuing his investigation, however, of whether authorities acted improperly in last year’s dismissal.
Glandian has suggested that the special prosecutor’s probe was biased against her client because it used the same police detectives involved in the original case.
The city of Chicago sued Smollett last April seeking to recover the costs incurred in investigating his hate-crime report.
Smollett, who has lost his role as a singer-songwriter in “Empire,” a Fox television hip-hop drama, counter-sued the city in November, accusing municipal officials of maliciously prosecuting him.
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