By Jessica Parks, The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
PHILADELPHIA — When Bruce Castor, then the Montgomery County District Attorney, decided not to file sexual assault charges against comedian Bill Cosby in 2005, it wasn’t because he didn’t believe the woman who said Cosby had drugged and groped her.
“Now I can say I thought he did it,” Castor said in an interview Wednesday. “But back then I would have been accused of tainting the jury that was going to hear the civil case.”
Castor’s revelation is not exactly new; since leaving the district attorney’s office he has discussed the case and has said he believed some crime occurred, though winning a conviction would have been an uphill battle.
But with the allegations against the famed comedian resurfacing in recent weeks — and going viral through social media — the former prosecutor’s words are getting newfound attention.
Andrea Constand, a 30-year-old former employee of Temple University’s Athletic Department said Cosby invited her to his Cheltenham home in 2004 to provide career advice. He gave her a pill, she alleged, and groped her while she felt too groggy to resist.
After the criminal case was dropped, Constand filed a civil suit, and her attorney said several other women had promised to come forward and testify that they too been similarly assaulted.
Cosby settled out of court.
Through his attorneys, Cosby denied the allegations in 2005 and again this week, after the claims resurfaced publicly. But he has refused to answer any questions about the women in interviews.
Castor said Constand’s case “probably was the closest in his life that came to getting arrested.” But since the woman waited a year to report the alleged assault, there was no way to trace DNA evidence or drugs in her system, he said.
“The year delay was insurmountable,” he said.
Some women’s groups questioned Castor’s decision at the time.
“We find in our agency that sometimes it takes people 10 years to come forward,” Carole Johnson, executive director of Women Organized Against Rape, said in March 2005.
When Cheltenham Township and Montgomery County detectives interviewed Cosby about the allegations, Castor said, he cooperated and denied any wrongdoing.
Still, investigators “thought he was being evasive,” Castor said.
The DA’s staff also interviewed other women who had similar allegations, but according to Castor “they were very old” — one incident was more than 30 years old — “and none of them resulted in prosecution,” so they may not have been admissible in court, he said.
Castor said he is surprised now to be inundated with calls about the case, because nothing about it has changed. Since leaving the district attorney’s office — he is now a county commissioner — Castor has discussed the case and has said he believed Cosby was guilty.
When he announced that no charges were filed, Castor said, he tried to craft the statement “in such a way that anyone reading it would know he had done something wrong, but … I was walking a fine line” to avoid tainting a jury in a civil trial.
Castor also dismissed the notion that the allegations against Cosby were somehow swept under the rug at the time.
“It was covered hugely,” he said, recalling articles from China to Europe and across the U.S. mainstream media. “Other than some of the murder cases I had, it was covered more widely than any other case I worked on.”
Cosby, a Philadelphia native, still owns the Cheltenham home where Constand’s assault allegedly occurred — a 5-acre mansion he purchased in 1983 from Fitz Eugene Dixon, heir to the Widener and Elkins family fortunes and onetime owner of the 76ers.
If there’s one good thing that comes out of it, Castor said, it’s that with new technology and social media, “there’s safety in numbers. … It’s an incentive for people who are true victims to come forward, by letting them know that it happens more frequently than you think, and that law enforcement will treat it seriously.”
Photo: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia