‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty

Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at Leighton Criminal Courthouse on March 14, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Smollett stands accused of arranging a homophobic, racist attack against himself in an attempt to raise his profile because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the Fox television drama "Empire." (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

CHICAGO — “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty to the charges accusing him of lying to police about being attacked in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago.

The 36-year-old actor’s lawyer, Tina Glandian, entered the plea Thursday on Smollett’s behalf after Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case, including the trial.

The next court date was scheduled for April 17. Smollett is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors allege that the actor, who is black and gay, hired two friends to help stage an attack on him in downtown Chicago early on the morning of Jan. 29.

Police say Smollett told detectives that two masked men beat him while hurling racist and homophobic slurs, and that they poured an unknown substance on him and hung a noose around his neck before fleeing.

Smollett has denied staging the attack and maintains his innocence.

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