US

Jussie Smollett, Accused of Orchestrating Hate Crime Hoax, Pleads Not Guilty to 16 Counts

By Zachary Stieber

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct on March 14, about a week after he was indicted for allegedly lying to police about a hate crime he allegedly orchestrated.

Smollett, 36, arrived at a Chicago courthouse shortly before 9 a.m. After the plea was entered by Smollett’s legal team, Cook County Judge Steven Watkins said the actor could travel to New York and California to meet with his attorneys but only after giving the court 48 hours notice, reported CBS Chicago.

Smollett, who was released on bail after being arrested, was told he must be present and on-time for all future court dates.

The next hearing in the case is slated for April 17.

Smollett originally claimed he was attacked in Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, in freezing temperatures by two white men who shouted slurs at him and said “this is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make American Great Again.”

Two Nigerian-American brothers who were extras on “Empire,” Abel and Ola Osundairo, were arrested on suspicion of attacking Smollett but were released after telling the police that Smollett orchestrated the attack and paid them $3,500.

“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary,” Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference on Feb. 21. Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I’m left hanging my head and asking why.”

Smollett, a vocal opponent of Trump, also told the black brothers to yell “this is MAGA country,” prosecutors said.

Abel Osundairo, left, and his brother Ola Osundairo
Abel Osundairo, left, and his brother Ola Osundairo, in a file photo. The Nigerian brothers were arrested in connection with the alleged attack on “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett but were released after reportedly telling detectives Smollett paid them to stage the attack. (Team Abel/Instagram)

While “MAGA” is known as shorthand for the slogan, it’s rarely said aloud in place of the full slogan, making the quote appear awkward. With Chicago being heavily liberal along with most other American cities, it was one of the aspects of the alleged attack that first ignited people’s doubts.

After Smollett appeared in court and had his bond set at $100,000, prosecutors released a four-page summary of his alleged actions. According to the summary, it was Smollett’s idea for Ola Osundairo, one of the Nigerian-American brothers, to yell “This is MAGA country” while placing a rope around his neck.

Smollett also instructed the brothers to yell slurs at him and that Abel Osundairo, the other brother, should “attack him, but not hurt him too badly.”

Smollett1
“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, center, arrives at Leighton Criminal Court Building for a hearing to discuss whether cameras will be allowed in the courtroom during his disorderly conduct case in Chicago on March 12, 2019 (Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

“They punched him a little but as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruises on his face were likely self-inflicted,” Johnson said at the press briefing.

Smollett also allegedly gave the brothers extra money to buy the rope, ski masks, gasoline, gloves, and red baseball caps. The latter resembled the red hats that say “Make America Great Again,” which are worn by Trump and supporters of the president.

Smollett is also believed to be behind a letter that was sent to the actor at the “Empire” studios in Chicago and contained the word “MAGA” in addition to threats. The FBI and U.S. Postal Service are investigating whether the actor was involved with sending the letter, which contained a white powdery substance that was later determined to be aspirin.

Smollett and his legal team have maintained he’s innocent, saying this week they’d welcome cameras in the courtroom.