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Maryland colleges reviewing Cosby's honorary degrees in wake of charges

, and Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Maryland colleges are reviewing Bill Cosby's honorary degrees after he was charged in a sexual assault.

After months of allegations by dozens of women, prosecutors charged Bill Cosby on Wednesday with having sexually assaulted a former associate after drugging her at his Pennsylvania home nearly 12 years ago.

Prosecutors in Montgomery County, Pa., charged the comedian and actor with aggravated indecent assault in the alleged encounter in early 2004. District Attorney Kevin Steele said the charge was made possible by the discovery of new evidence this year.

The 78-year-old Cosby, who once used his influence within the African-American community to hold forth against saggy pants and deadbeat dads, was arraigned Wednesday before District Judge Elizabeth McHugh in the Philadelphia suburb of Elkins Park.

Bail was set at $1 million. He posted it immediately.

The criminal charge was the latest blow for the entertainer. Cosby has been accused of sexual assault by more than 60 women, many of whom have joined in civil lawsuits against him. NBC and Netflix canceled projects with Cosby, and several schools — including Goucher College in Towson — have taken back honorary degrees they awarded him..

Cosby and his lawyers have repeatedly denied the allegations. He has filed a countersuit against seven of the women, accusing them of defamation.

The criminal complaint released Wednesday identified the alleged victim as Andrea Constand, 42, a former Temple University employee. The Baltimore Sun does not ordinarily identify alleged victims of sexual assault, but Constand has spoken publicly about it.

McHugh told Cosby that as a condition of his bail he must not contact the woman or her family.

"If that occurs, you could be arrested," the judge said. Cosby replied that he understood.

Cosby arrived at his arraignment in a gray hooded sweatshirt and black velour sweatpants and carrying a cane. He walked unsteadily and had to be helped to the defendant's table. After the brief hearing, he was taken to the township's police department to be fingerprinted.

An attorney representing Cosby said her client would fight the charge.

"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 said in a statement.

Four universities in Maryland — the Johns Hopkins University, the University of Baltimore, Goucher and the University of Maryland, College Park — have awarded Cosby honorary degrees after he spoke at their graduations.

Goucher, which gave Cosby an honorary doctorate in humane letters in 2001, rescinded the degree in October. If the allegations against Cosby had been known at the time, Goucher President Jose Bowen wrote to the college community, "I am confident Goucher would not have awarded this honor."

Officials at Hopkins and the University of Baltimore said Wednesday that they were still reviewing whether to take back their degrees.

"The University of Baltimore has been monitoring the situation and we're going to take these latest developments into consideration," spokesman Chris Hart said.

The Sexual Assault Resource Unit, a student group at Hopkins, has pushed the university to rescind the degree it gave Cosby. Members of the group and Lili Bernard, an actress who appeared on "The Cosby Show" and has accused him of rape, met with school officials in October to discuss the matter. The group says Bernard is the parent of a Hopkins freshman.

Ella Rogers-Fett, a co-director of the Hopkins group, said it has not heard from administration officials on a decision.

"We sincerely hope that this will be factored into the administration's decision on whether to revoke the degree," Rogers-Fett said. "I think that if they were unsure before, this should solidify a decision to revoke the degree."

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Hopkins directed a reporter to a statement he issued in October, when he said the university was "deeply troubled by the reports and allegations regarding Bill Cosby" and was "actively reviewing this matter."

Officials at the University of Maryland did not respond to requests for comment.

The names of Cosby and his wife, Camille, grace a community center run by St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore. The couple donated $2 million to the center in 2012, and it was rechristened the Drs. Camille and Bill Cosby Community Center.

Curtis Turner, the school's principal, said its board of directors discussed removing the name when allegations against Cosby first surfaced but decided against it.

"The building is really named after his wife," Turner said. "His name is on it as her husband, but she was the one who had the relationship with the school, and she was the one who made the donation."

Camille Cosby attended St. Cyprian's School in Washington. Like St. Frances, that school was run by the Oblate Sisters, an African-American order of nuns.

"If any of that notoriety started to interfere with the mission of the community center, the board would be concerned," Turner said. "Right now, the community center still serves the community very well. Other than a few media outlets, no one has really questioned us about it."

Cosby has other ties to Maryland. In 2011, he helped campaign of Baltimore mayoral candidate Otis Rolley, appearing at a $4,000-a-plate fundraising dinner. Rolley declined to comment Wednesday.

Cosby has visited Baltimore on other occasions, including a stop in Northwest Baltimore in 2006 as part of his "Call Out" tour, in which he scolded "lower economic" black people for naming their children "Shaniqua, Taliqua and Mohammed and all that crap, and all of them are in jail."

He performed at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric in March. Cosby's show was interrupted by a heckler, and a small group protested outside the theater.

His future wife was a sophomore at the University of Maryland when she met Cosby and dropped out of school to marry him. She later earned a doctorate in education at the University of Massachusetts.

Steele said Constand "has indicated that she is willing to cooperate with us going forward."

Her lawyer has also said the woman is eager to cooperate with authorities.

"She's a very strong lady," Dolores Troiani said. "She'll do whatever they request of her."

Most of the women who have publicly accused Cosby of sexual assault have said they were drugged.

The case in southeastern Pennsylvania, which could send Cosby to prison for 10 years if he is convicted, is the first in which criminal charges have been filed against him.

Cosby grew up in West Philadelphia and graduated from Temple. He later became an ardent booster of the school and a member of its board of trustees.

As the allegations against him mounted, Cosby resigned from the board about a year ago.

Steele said Cosby "established a relationship" with the woman and that she considered Cosby "a mentor and friend."

Steele said Cosby made two sexual advances toward the woman, both of which she rejected.

He said Cosby "then urged her to take pills he provided to her, and drink wine, the effect of which rendered her unable to move [or] respond to his advances and he committed aggravated indecent assault upon her."

He identified the alleged drug as Quaaludes, a powerful sedative.

The charge is a first-degree felony.

"We have examined the evidence in this case," Steele said. "The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed at this point, and we are proceeding."

He said officials were talking to other women about potential charges.

The arrest warrant was signed and issued Tuesday and announced Wednesday morning.

Authorities say Cosby dated the woman, invited her to his home for dinner, took her to restaurants and introduced her to some of his friends, including some in the New York entertainment industry.

She told police that the attack occurred after he invited her to his home to discuss her career plans.

He urged her to relax and take some pills, authorities allege in the complaint, and told her "these will make you feel good. ... The blue things will take the edge off."

She said he assured her the pills were herbal. She said she told him she trusted him, then swallowed the pills.

She then drank some wine at his urging. The effects made her feel "rubbery, blurry and dizzy," she said.

She alleged that he physically assaulted her and placed her hand on his genitals. She said she awoke the next morning to find herself partly undressed.

In a 23-page criminal complaint, prosecutors say the new evidence emerged in depositions and statements from other women who described being attacked by Cosby. They say Pennsylvania authorities reopened the case in July.

Police also re-examined statements that Cosby made in four days of civil depositions in September 2005 and March 2006.

Three months after the alleged assault, Constand moved back to her parents' home in Canada, prosecutors say.

Her mother was "shocked and devastated" and tried to confront Cosby on the phone, but could not get through to him, prosecutors say. The family then notified local law enforcement authorities in Canada.

The mother later did get through to Cosby on the phone. He told her that he could not read the prescription label on the pill bottle because of an "eye condition" but conceded that he and Constand had had sexual contact.

"Cosby apologized and offered to cover any expenses associated with therapy," prosecutors say.

Several weeks later, prosecutors say, a Cosby representative tried to arrange for the comedian to see the woman again, including during a trip to Florida.

In January 2005, Canadian police forwarded a report of their investigation to Pennsylvania authorities.

When Montgomery County police interviewed Cosby, prosecutors say, he said he had not told the victim the true nature of the pills.

"In short, Cosby described the incident as a consensual sexual encounter," prosecutors say.

He said he was her mentor and described their relationship as "social and romantic."

When Cosby was asked if he and the woman had ever had sex, prosecutors say, he gave an "unusual answer: Never asleep or awake."

Police also reinterviewed the woman's mother, and she said she had told Cosby that he was "a very sick man," especially for still wanting to see her daughter.

Prosecutors allege that Cosby encouraged the woman to take the sedatives, calling them "three friends," to make it easy for him to sexually assault her.

"She was rendered unable to speak or even move, and left capable only to perceive aspects of this aggravated indecent assault," they allege in the complaint.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

cwells@baltsun.com

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