In September 2005, Bill Cosby sat before an array of lawyers during a deposition in the Rittenhouse hotel in Philadelphia and explained that he wanted to keep “tabloid-type accusations, sexual accusations” out of the public eye.
A decade later, the entertainment legend’s strategy of suppressing coverage of sexual-assault accusations has unraveled in stunning fashion. The comedian’s own words, included in hundreds of pages of his recently disclosed deposition in a civil lawsuit filed against Cosby by one of his accusers, are being pored over by lawyers who say his admission under oath to supplying drugs to possible sexual partners will bolster efforts to sue him for tens of millions of dollars. They also might be used by law enforcement officials to prosecute the comedy icon, who has not been tried in criminal court, although that possibility could be more remote because of statutes of limitations.
Bruce Castor, a former Pennsylvania district attorney who decided in 2005 not to prosecute Cosby after a Temple University basketball official accused the comedian of sexual assault, said Sunday that he would consider using newly revealed testimony from a deposition to build a criminal case against Cosby, if he is reelected to his office in Montgomery County in suburban Philadelphia.
If Cosby lied under oath in his jurisdiction, Castor said, “I would arrest him. . . . If not, I would send the findings to the D.A. of that county to make the decision.”
But Castor cautioned that a criminal case against Cosby would be difficult to bring.
“You have to independently prove that a crime occurred. We could never get over the initial hurdle,” Castor said. In 2005, he said, there was “insufficient evidence to prosecute.”
Cases with a victim who was incapacitated and without forensics are hard to prove so many years later. In some of the claims against Cosby, the alleged sexual activities date to the 1960s.
Some of Cosby’s deposition testimony became public earlier this month after a federal court in Philadelphia granted a request for court documents by the Associated Press. Additional testimony was reported online Saturday and in print Sunday by the New York Times, which obtained copies of a deposition previously thought to be sealed. The Times reported that Cosby said he used money, multiple prescriptions for Quaaludes and calculated manipulation to seduce at least five women.
More than 40 women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault. The accusations have spurred defamation lawsuits filed by Cosby accusers who say that Cosby’s representatives smeared them by suggesting they were lying. Los Angeles police are conducting a criminal investigation. No charges have been filed, but the effect on Cosby’s career and reputation has been massive.
Cosby and his representatives have steadfastly denied the assault claims. When he was reached for comment Saturday evening, Cosby publicist Andrew Wyatt told CNN, “We’re not making any comments right now. Thank you.”
NBC and Netflix have scuttled planned projects, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park removed a statue of Cosby. Under pressure, Cosby resigned from Temple University’s board of trustees.
Cosby has fared better in Washington, though. Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has a long-standing relationship with Cosby, has kept its large mural of the comedian. On Sunday, after new details emerged in the Times report, a Ben’s co-owner — Nizam Ali — said the restaurant has no plans to remove its mural but that “this is something we’re always discussing.”
Amid the growing controversy, the National Museum of African Art has chosen to maintain a major exhibition of art owned by Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille. The Cosbys donated $716,000 for the exhibit.
On Thursday, new Smithsonian Secretary David J. Skorton told a meeting of staff members from throughout the organization that he supported the decision to maintain the exhibit at the museum, which is headed by Cosby family friend Johnnetta Cole. She declined to be interviewed, but Richard Kurin, the Smithsonian’s undersecretary for art, history and culture, who shared in the decision-making process, said, “It’s not the Smithsonian’s job or any cultural institution’s to deal with his behavior.”
A sign was placed at the exhibit Wednesday saying that the “National Museum of African Art in no way condones Mr. Cosby’s behavior. We continue to present, ‘Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue’ because it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby.”
Cosby accusers also have asked President Obama to revoke a Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to Cosby in 2002. Obama has said there is no mechanism to revoke the medal, but he took the opportunity, when asked about the medal Wednesday, to make stern remarks about sexual assault — without directly accusing Cosby.
“If you give a woman or a man, for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent—that’s rape,” the president said at a news conference. “Any civilized country should have no tolerance for rape.”
The new reports about Cosby’s testimony have only increased the intensity of criticism leveled at the comedian and institutions associated with him. The deposition was taken in the case of Andrea Constand, a Temple University basketball official, who said Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her at his Philadelphia-area home.
In Constand’s case — which was settled — a deposition reported by the Times shows that Cosby told her attorney, Dolores M. Troiani, that he considered the encounter consensual: “I walk her out. She does not look angry. She does not say to me, don’t ever do that again. She doesn’t walk out with an attitude of a huff, because I think that I’m a pretty decent reader of people and their emotions in these romantic sexual things, whatever you want to call them.”
He described himself as Constand’s “mentor,” willing to give her advice and a long list of contacts. When Constand did not follow his instructions and career advice, according to the Times, Cosby expressed a measure of frustration and shock at the idea that his influence and insight were being ignored.
“Here’s a mentor, Bill Cosby, who is in the business, Bill Cosby, who happens to know something about what to do, and Andrea is not picking up on it,” he said, according to the news report.
He characterized their affair as lighthearted, noting that both parties were “playing sex, we’re playing, petting, we’re playing.”
Peter Holley contributed to this report.