The Los Angeles police department has told ABC News that it has opened an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse by Bill Cosby – including into those for which the statute of limitations has expired.
“There’s been an open investigation involving Bill Cosby,” LAPD officer Matthew Ludwig told the Guardian.
The news comes after documents from a 2005 trial were released by the Associated Press in which the former comedian admitted giving a woman the sedative quaalude before having sex with her.
The 2005 lawsuit concerned separate allegations of abuse against Andrea Constand, a basketball coach at Temple University in Philadelphia. That case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, and the documents, which include testimony under oath from Cosby, remained under seal for almost a decade before being revealed on Monday. Constand consented to be identified but did not want to comment, her lawyer told the Associated Press on Monday.
In one of the documents, Cosby answers the question of whether he gave sedatives to one woman before having sex with her: “Yes.” He also admits to giving quaaludes to others.
In the nine years since the Constand lawsuit was settled, more than two dozen women have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse against Cosby. Almost all of the allegations involve variations of the same alleged modus operandi, with the victim being given either a pill or a drink before losing consciousness and allegedly being sexually assaulted.
On Wednesday, lawyers for Constand filed a motion with the court to make public the full transcript of the 2005 court proceedings, much of which is still unavailable to the public due to the terms of the original settlement.
At the same time, several civil suits against Cosby are pending in response to bullish statements made by his representatives about his accusers. In California, the supermodel Janice Dickinson – one of the many women who claim Cosby sexually abused them – is suing him for defamation; in Massachusetts, three more of his alleged victims, Tamara Green, Linda Traitz, and Therese Serignese, are also suing on the same grounds.
Lawyers for Cosby did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but Dickinson’s lawyer Lisa Bloom described Monday’s revelations as “a game-changer”.
“Our case hinges on whether Janice Dickinson was telling the truth when she publicly accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping her,” Bloom told the Guardian. “He has now admitted the substantial part of that claim, which is that he obtained drugs for use on young women.
“That was the answer he gave; he can’t wriggle out from under it now.”
In large part, Cosby’s accusers are focusing on defamation because the statutes of limitations for criminal charges on all of the allegations against Cosby so far have all run out. While crimes such as murder, arson or kidnapping can be prosecuted at any point, victims of sexual assault in the US have a limited time to file criminal charges, which range variously state-to-state from between three and 30 years.
None of the crimes that Cosby has so far been accused of fall within those time-frames.
However, ABC News reported on Wednesday that the Los Angeles police department was nonetheless investigating Cosby on a criminal basis. A spokesperson for the LAPD told the Guardian that “if people bring forward allegations they are investigated” no matter when the alleged crimes took place.
But the legal situation of the defamation suits against Cosby is much more complex. Both the California suit and the Massachusetts lawsuits are waiting for a judge to rule on motions by Cosby’s lawyers to dismiss them, and victory for the plaintiffs – despite Monday’s revelations – is by no means assured.
For the three who are suing in Massachusetts, a different statute of limitations may be in play. The alleged defamation in question took place in the press in 2014, but Cosby’s lawyers are arguing that the actual statements were made much longer ago, in 2007, and simply repeated in the media in 2014. This would put them far outside the statute of limitations for defamation.
This is not the case for Dickinson’s lawsuit in California, where the allegedly defamatory statement at issue happened well within the statute.
But both cases face other strict legal obstacles – aimed to protect freedom of speech – which could see both cases thrown out before they see a jury, no matter how guilty Cosby looks to the general public.
Additionally, because the 2005 deposition in which Cosby admits to giving a woman quaaludes and then having sex with her was only released on Monday, it isn’t currently part of either the California or the Massachusetts court filings. That means that unless the legal teams rush through an updated complaint, it won’t currently have any bearing on the judge’s ruling in either case.
If in either case the judge rules that the complaint has merit and they progress to a jury trial, then that’s a whole new ball game, according to Michael Niborski, a veteran litigation attorney expert in defamation law – because that’s when the plaintiffs can turn a defamation trial into a proxy rape trial.
But Niborski warned that due to several technicalities, the legal bars for either Dickinson in California or the plaintiffs in Massachusetts to get their days in court are still higher than they seem. “If I had to bet my own money, I would bet that the judge would side with Cosby’s lawyers,” he said.
This is not because of a lack of evidence against Cosby – the evidence now includes his own admission under oath – but because the standards for a defamation suit are very different from those in a criminal case.
The statute of limitations on his alleged criminal acts – drugging, sexual assault and sexual battery – means Cosby’s victims are suing him for what he said, rather than what he did to them. So, ironically for a case in which the crucial documents have been sealed by court order for almost a decade, the issue will become one of freedom of speech protected by the first amendment.
Nonetheless, Bloom, who is representing Dickinson in California, told the Guardian: “I expect we will prevail.” Her confidence was echoed by Joe Cammarata, the lawyer representing the three plaintiffs in Massachusetts, who told the Guardian on Tuesday that the new documents would go “a long way” toward crediting his clients’ allegations.
“The wheels of just move very slowly,” Bloom said, “but they do eventually move.”