In the weeks since allegations that Bill Cosby sexually assaulted women decades ago began generating national debate, it’s been assumed that the accusations were too old to merit attention from law enforcement.
But on Thursday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said his detectives would investigate any complaints filed with the LAPD against the comedian, even those exceeding the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution.
So far, Beck said, no complaints against Cosby have been filed with the LAPD.
But his statement opens another potential avenue of investigation into the accusations that Cosby drugged and assaulted women in the 1970s and 1980s. It also represents an increasing effort by law enforcement agencies to give older sexual assault cases new looks, in part to establish a pattern of behavior if a suspect is later accused of a new crime.
“We don’t turn people away because things are out of statute. You come to us, especially with a sexual allegation, we will work with you,” Beck said. “We address these things seriously, and it’s not just because it’s Mr. Cosby.”
Under California law, the legal deadline for prosecuting a rape allegation involving an adult victim is 10 years. Serious assaults involving minors can be prosecuted if the incident occurred in 1988 or later.
But LAPD officials said there were many reasons to investigate sexual assault allegations that fall beyond those legal deadlines. Old accusations may lead investigators to more recent incidents with other victims. They may also lead detectives to perpetrators — such as teachers or day care workers — who might still have access to potential victims.
“Unfortunately, sexual offenses tend to be serial offenses,” said Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman. “You find victim after victim after victim.”
Prosecutors can use out-of-statute allegations to bolster their cases in court, said Carol Burke, the Los Angeles County head deputy district attorney in charge of the sex crimes division. California law allows any victims to testify as witnesses, she said, even if their own cases never resulted in charges.
Multiple witnesses allow prosecutors to show that a defendant had a propensity to commit such crimes, Burke said.
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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times
Kate Mather and Richard Winton