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.
LAPD Capt. Fabian Lizarraga, whose Juvenile Division investigates sex crimes involving minors, said Beck's comments represented the department's open-door policy when it comes to sexual assault allegations. He said investigating all claims shows the department's commitment to victims.
"All victims deserve to be heard," he said. "It doesn't matter if it's out of statute or not."
Lizarraga noted the recent investigations involving "7th Heaven" actor Stephen Collins as an example of how one sexual assault report can lead to another. New York police began investigating the actor in 2012 after receiving information that he may have abused a 14-year-old girl years ago.
The LAPD opened its own investigation of Collins that same year, after a woman contacted police to say Collins molested her in New York decades earlier, and she thought he may have molested a relative in California. The LAPD said investigators repeatedly reached out to the relative, but that she never responded and the allegation was never substantiated.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began its own investigation into Collins earlier this year, after news of the other investigations broke and another woman contacted local authorities. She told investigators Collins exposed himself to her at a West Hollywood apartment in 1983, when she was 13, sheriff's officials said.
The accusations against Cosby emerged about a decade ago, after a woman said in court that Cosby sexually assaulted her and then settled her lawsuit with the comedian. The allegations gained new momentum in October, when a comedian mocked Cosby's fatherly image given the sexual assault allegations. In the weeks since, multiple women have publicly accused the comedian of assaulting them decades ago.
This week, Judy Huth filed a lawsuit against Cosby in Los Angeles, accusing him of assaulting her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974, when she was 15.
Huth said that the comedian made her drink beer while playing billiards, then led her to the Playboy Mansion where the assault occurred. Her lawsuit states she only recently realized her "psychological injuries and illnesses were caused by the sexual abuse."
Cosby's attorney, Martin D. Singer, has not returned calls seeking comment. But in a court filing Thursday, he described Huth's accusations as "patently false." Singer said Huth tried to extort the comedian, demanding he pay $100,000, then $250,000, so she would "keep quiet."
Singer argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it had passed the statute of limitations, and Huth hadn't filed paperwork from a mental health practitioner saying there was a "reasonable basis to believe" Huth had been abused as a child.
The attorney said Huth "unsuccessfully tried to sell her story to the tabloids nearly a decade ago" and dismissed her allegation that she played a drinking game with the comedian, describing Cosby as a "lifelong non-drinker."
"The problem with [Huth's] allegations (in addition to the fact that they are patently false) is that they are 40 years old; and therefore, are inherently unreliable," Singer wrote in his response.
Huth's attorney did not return requests for comment.