Actor and comedian Bill Cosby has been charged with sexual assault over an alleged incident in 2004 at his Philadelphia-area mansion, a Pennsylvania prosecutor said on Wednesday, in the first criminal case after years of mounting accusations.
Kevin Steele, Montgomery County's district attorney-elect, said Cosby faces a felony charge of aggravated indecent assault. He said the investigation that led to the charge involved a "relationship" with the victim, Andrea Constand, that stemmed from her work with the Temple University basketball team.
Cosby became a "mentor" and "friend" to Constand, and at one point she went to Cosby's home, where he made two sexual advances that were rejected, Steele said. According to the accusations, Cosby then urged her to take pills and drink wine until she was unable to move.
"Today, after examination of all the evidence, we are able to seek justice on behalf of the victim," Steele said. "The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed ... a person in that state cannot give consent."
Cosby will be arraigned on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT). Steele said his office was examining evidence related to other alleged victims, but the charges announced Wednesday related to just one victim.
Dozens of women have come forward in recent years to accuse Cosby of sexual misconduct and assault. He has denied the allegations and this month opened a lawsuit against seven of the women, accusing them of defamation and denying their allegations.
Many of the alleged incidents occurred decades ago and the statute of limitations for prosecuting them expired long ago. These charges were brought against the 78-year-old just before the statute of limitations in the case runs out in January.
There was no immediate response to the charges from Cosby's lawyer.
A statement from the district attorney's office said the victim ingested three blue pills along with the wine and water. She felt "frozen" and "paralysed" as she was being assaulted, it said.
In 2005, Cosby was deposed in a lawsuit filed by Constand. During four days of questioning in that deposition, Cosby presented himself as an unapologetic playboy but not a sexual predator. He said he immediately felt romantic interest in Constand and described a patient courtship.
He considered himself a mentor, offering advice and professional contacts, he said. Soon after they met, he invited her 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, 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.
Dolores M. Troiani, Constand's lawyer, said she believed it to be a much more powerful drug.
After Constand moved home to Canada, Cosby spoke on the phone to Constand's mother, who was distraught over her daughter's accusations. Cosby wanted Constand to tell her mother it was consensual, he said.
"Tell your mother about the orgasm. Tell your mother how we talked," he said he recalled thinking.
Worried that they might try to embarrass him, he offered to help pay for Constand's education, he said.
The district attorney's office's statement said the charges were made possible by new information that came to light in July 2015.
It said after Constand moved back to Canada and disclosed to her mother what had happened, the women informed the Canadian authorities, who told the authorities in Pennsylvania.
According to the criminal complaint, which sought an arrest warrant for Cosby, he was alleged to have "substantially impaired" the woman's ability to control her conduct "for the purpose of preventing resistance."
The charges shocked Cosby's fans and crushed his reputation as an entertainer and father figure.
He is best known for playing Dr Cliff Huxtable, the family patriarch in the TV sitcom The Cosby Show, in the 1980s.
New York Times, Reuters