Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty before a judge in Chicago on Thursday. The actor is currently being charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false police reports.
According to People, Jussie Smollett is maintaining his innocence after police claim that he helped to stage the alleged hate crime attack against himself back in January.
Police say that they’ve gathered evidence that reveals Jussie may have orchestrated the attack. Jussie claims that he was approached by two masked men and was beaten, covered in a liquid chemical substance of unknown composition, and then had a rope put around his neck.
“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said in a statement following the indictment.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense,” another member of Jussie’s legal team, Victor Henderson, previously stated.
Police claim that they began to question Smollett’s story from the beginning, and that it seemed the motive for him to stage a hate crime against himself may have been to earn more money from his Empire contract.
If Jussie Smollett is convicted of falsifying a police report, which is a Class 4 felony, the charge could carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.
Meanwhile, the drama with Smollett has reportedly impacted the cast and crew of Empire, who are said to be divided over the situation.
As previously reported by The Inquisitr, sources claim that some of the cast wanted to send Jussie a message, to let him know that they were thinking of him during this difficult time. However, others were reportedly “disgusted” by the thought of sending him well wishes.
An insider tells Page Six that the hair and makeup people — and a lot of crew members — were especially up in arms about the notion of sending Smollett love and support.
Meanwhile, actress Queen Latifah has defended Jussie, claiming that she knows Smollett, and that he has always been very caring. Latifah says that, until she sees some “definitive proof,” which is yet to happen, she is going to support him through this tough time.
In addition, Jussie’s co-star, Terrence Howard, is also said to be struggling with the situation. TMZ reports that the day Smollett was arrested, Howard was very upset — and refused to come out of his trailer.
Jussie Smollett will return to court on April 17.