Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey announced Thursday the creation of a special task force to examine allegations of sexual assault roiling Hollywood as the number of accusations reported to police this week climbed.
Lacey made the announcement Thursday as local law enforcement agencies investigate allegations made against such Hollywood heavyweights as producer Harvey Weinstein, director James Toback and actor Ed Westwick, among others.
The district attorney said she has assigned a group of veteran sex crimes prosecutors to work together to examine the cases and “ensure a uniformed approach to the legal review and possible prosecution of any case that meets both the legal and factual standards for criminal prosecution.”
Legal experts said the task force makes sense but continued to caution that such cases can be difficult to prove. Many of the alleged incidents occurred years ago, and detectives need to determine whether physical evidence or witness statements exist that can help build cases.
“It does speak to the culture of the city that this is a major criminal justice issue worthy of a task force,” said Laurie Levenson, a former prosecutor and Loyola law professor. “It is a good idea to have veteran, experienced prosecutors on these cases. But people shouldn’t get their expectations up.”
In the month since allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein first surfaced, the number of sexual assault or lewd conduct reports against Hollywood figures has steadily escalated.
The Los Angeles Police Department is investigating allegations of rape and forced oral copulation in 2013 against Weinstein by an Italian model-actress as well as a lewd act in 2015. Detectives are probing allegations of sexual assault against Toback, whom more than 200 women have accused of sexual misconduct. “Gossip Girl” actor Westwick is the subject of two women’s allegations he raped them in 2014.
The Beverly Hills Police Department also has open investigations involving Weinstein and Toback.
All three have publicly denied any wrongdoing.
Some Hollywood stars have also turned to the LAPD to investigate their claims of abuse. Actor Terry Crews this week reported he was sexually assaulted by a prominent Hollywood talent agent. The star of TV’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and former NFL football player claimed he was groped in 2016 at a party by an agent whose clients include numerous A-list actors.
Lacey said the police have yet to forward any cases to prosecutors for review.
“We are in communications with the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police departments,” she said in a statement.
LAPD’s sex crimes detectives in its Robbery-Homicide Division have been vetting the cases and working closely with prosecutors. The department is acting as a clearinghouse for agencies in Southern California as some reports are coming from other police overseas.
Los Angeles police officials Thursday said some of the allegations are too old to pursue because of the statute of limitations for various sex crimes. This week, actor Corey Feldman reported to the LAPD that he was sexually abused by two adults as a child in the industry.