Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct for allegedly staging an attack and claiming he was the victim of a hate crime.
The Empire star, 36, appeared in court in Cook County, Chicago, on Thursday, March 14. He was granted permission to travel to Los Angeles and New York for meetings with his lawyers, so long as he notifies the court 48 hours in advance and checks back in within 24 hours after returning to the state of Illinois. Smollett is set to reappear in court in mid-April.
Just one day before his hearing, Empire’s season 5 midseason premiere aired, marking the hit Fox drama’s first new episode since the scandal surrounding Smollett made headlines in January. His character, Jamal Lyon, breaks down in tears during the emotional episode as sings about his tumultuous relationship with fiancé Kai Givens (Toby Onwumere). The couple ultimately end their relationship because Kai has trouble accepting Jamal’s criminal background.
Serayah McNeill, who stars as Tina Brown, previously revealed to Us Weekly exclusively that Smollett’s legal issues have been difficult for the cast to process. “I think that it definitely has an effect on everyone,” she admitted in the latest issue of Us. “Right now, everyone is fine and everyone is finishing up the season and being professional about it. Everyone is acting very professionally. We all love this show and we have a job to do.”
Smollett initially claimed to the Chicago Police Department that he was attacked on January 29 by two men who were yelling homophobic and racist remarks at him. Two weeks later, authorities arrested brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, but released the actors, whom had minor roles on Empire, just hours later without filing charges.
Smollett was later charged on February 21 with felony disorderly conduct for making a false police report. Officials accused him of staging the attack due to his dissatisfaction with his Empire salary and he was later released on a $100,000 bond.
The actor returned to the Empire set just hours after he was let go from custody, but the network later said in a statement to Us that he would be cut from the remainder of the season: “While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”