Bill Cosby, who has for decades been pursued by allegations of sexual misconduct, was charged with sexual assault in Pennsylvania on Wednesday in a case that many people, including women who had come forward publicly, long thought prosecutors would never bring.
The criminal charges stem from a woman’s accusation that he drugged and sexually abused her at his home in a suburb north of Philadelphia in 2004.
Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney-elect, said that Mr. Cosby faces felony charges of indecent assault. He said the investigation involved a “relationship” between Mr. Cosby and the woman, Andrea Constand, that came about from her work with the basketball team at Temple University, Mr. Cosby’s alma mater.
Mr. Cosby became a “mentor” and “friend” to Ms. Constand, Mr. Steele said, and in early 2004 she went to his home in Cheltenham Township. According to the accusations, Mr. Cosby urged her to take pills and drink wine until she was unable to move, after which he assaulted her.
“The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed,” said Mr. Steele, now first assistant district attorney. “A person in that state cannot give consent,” he added.
The criminal charges followed a year of tumult in Mr. Cosby’s career as dozens of women accused him of sexually assaulting them. Many of those women cheered the decision to prosecute Mr. Cosby, the entertainer who was once revered as a father figure and popular moralist.
Lawyers for Mr. Cosby, 78, who has long denied the many accusations and had never before been criminally charged, had only recently spoken of how he had been harmed as universities and Disney World retracted honors they had bestowed on him.
The lawyers said they would fight the charges.
Document | 2015 Criminal Complaint Against Bill Cosby The authorities in Montgomery County, Pa., announced on Wednesday that Mr. Cosby faced a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault stemming from a 2004 episode.
“Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr. Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law,” Monique Pressley, one of his lawyers, said in a statement.
Mr. Steele said the decade-old case had been reopened after new evidence emerged in July. He referred to court documents and the deposition from a civil suit filed by Ms. Constand in which Mr. Cosby acknowledged he had given women quaaludes as a party drug in his efforts to have sex. Some court records were sealed when the civil case was settled in 2006 but were released by a federal judge in July.
In the criminal complaint filed Wednesday, investigators said one of the most important factors to them was Mr. Cosby’s “conflicting identifications of the drug” he gave Ms. Constand. She said he described the drugs as herbal, and Mr. Cosby told the police the drug was Benadryl but told Ms. Constand’s mother he could not recall what it was.
Mr. Cosby’s apologies to Ms. Constand and her mother and offer of financial assistance was “further indicative of Cosby’s consciousness of guilt,” according to the complaint.
“Investigators recognize that individuals who are falsely accused of sexual assault generally do not unilaterally offer generous financial assistance, and apologies, to their accuser and their accuser’s family,” the complaint says.
A predecessor at the district attorney’s office, Bruce Castor, declined to prosecute Mr. Cosby in the case in 2005, saying he did not believe there was sufficient evidence. That decision was an issue in the fall race for Montgomery County district attorney, between Mr. Castor and Mr. Steele.
Prosecutors say the assault occurred early in 2004 and the charges were filed now to beat the 12-year statute of limitations. Aggravated indecent assault carries a punishment of five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Ms. Constand’s lawyer, Dolores M. Troiani, expressed “appreciation” to law enforcement officials in a statement, praising them for “the consideration and courtesy they have shown Andrea during this difficult time.”
Interactive Feature | Latest in the Bill Cosby Case A summary of recent developments in the Bill Cosby case.
Mr. Cosby arrived in a black sport utility vehicle Wednesday afternoon for his arraignment at a district court in Elkins Park, Pa. Carrying a cane and stumbling slightly along the way, he walked past the flashing cameras wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt and ignoring questions shouted by reporters lined up behind barricades.
Judge Elizabeth McHugh ordered him to surrender his passport and to avoid contact with Ms. Constand.
Judge McHugh concluded the proceeding after about 15 minutes by saying, “Good luck to you, sir.” He replied, “Thank you.” He will remain free on bail of $1 million.
Mr. Cosby then headed to the Cheltenham Township Police Department to be fingerprinted and to have a photographs taken. A small gathering of people outside shouted, “You’re a monster” and “Shame on you” as he walked into the station. He said nothing.
Document | Excerpts From Bill Cosby’s Deposition in 2005 and 2006 Over the course of four days in 2005 and 2006, Bill Cosby answered questions posed to him by a lawyer for a woman who said Mr. Cosby had drugged and molested her.
Mr. Steele said his office was examining evidence related to other accusers, some of whom his investigators had interviewed, but the charges related to just one. In recent years, dozens of women have accused Mr. Cosby of sexual misconduct and assault. One of them, Kristina Ruehli, 72, who accused Mr. Cosby last year of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1965, reacted to the news that he had been charged by saying, “I’m over the moon,” and adding, “The wheels of justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine.”
Legal specialists said prosecutors faced a number of hurdles in the Constand case, including the lack of forensic evidence, but that there was a chance they would be able to use the complaints against him brought by other women as evidence of a pattern of conduct. Mr. Cosby, they said, can be expected to try to block that effort and could also seek to have his deposition from the Constand civil case declared inadmissible.
“There are a dozen critical issues that are going to be litigated in this case pretrial before we can see the landscape of the case against Mr. Cosby,” said Benjamin Brafman, a defense lawyer who is not involved in Mr. Cosby’s case.
In 2005 and 2006, Mr. Cosby talked about his relationship with Ms. Constand in a deposition for a lawsuit she filed against him. During four days of questioning, Mr. Cosby presented himself as an unapologetic playboy but not a sexual predator. He said he immediately felt romantic interest in Ms. Constand after meeting her in the early 2000s and described a patient courtship.
He considered himself a mentor, offering advice and professional contacts, he said. Soon after they met, he invited Ms. Constand to his home, offering an intimate dinner with cognac, dimmed lights and a fire, he said.
He did not try to kiss her that night, he said, because he did not sense that she wanted him to. But he said they had a “sexual moment” at their next dinner. Their association continued for years but ended, Mr. Cosby said, when he gave her one and a half pills of Benadryl at his home to relieve stress, and they kissed and had sexual contact.
Ms. Constand described a much different course of events to investigators.
She said she had no interest in a romantic relationship with Mr. Cosby. “She never thought he would hit on her, especially since Cosby is much older than her father,” the criminal complaint said.
On the night in 2004 when Ms. Constand said she was drugged, she told Mr. Cosby she felt “drained” and “emotionally occupied,” according to the complaint. He urged her to take the pills, she told investigators.
Ms. Constand told investigators she soon had blurred vision, difficulty speaking, nausea and dizziness.
She woke up at 4 a.m. with her sweater bunched up and her bra undone, she said.
When a new wave of accusations by many women began in the fall of 2014, Mr. Cosby was trying to reignite a long-celebrated career and burnish his legacy. A stand-up comedy special on Netflix was to honor his 77th birthday. NBC was considering a project that would return him to prime time. Mr. Cosby even tried to continue a comedy tour that was interrupted by heckling and was ultimately abandoned.
But as more and more women accused him of drugging them and sexual misconduct — some filing defamation lawsuits against him over branding them as liars after they had come forward — he largely disappeared from the public eye. This month, Mr. Cosby struck back against seven of the women who had accused him of sexual assault and defamation by suing them claiming defamation. He also filed a defamation suit against another accuser, the former supermodel Beverly Johnson.
Still unclear is what impact the criminal case will have on the settlement reached in Ms. Constand’s civil suit, in which she is believed to have received a financial payment. Her lawyer did not respond to a question about that case.
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