US District Attorney forms Hollywood sexual assault task force
LOS ANGELES: Los Angeles county District Attorney Jackie Lacey has announced the establishment of a special sexual assault task force in Hollywood as the number of accusations reported to the police this week has escalated, the media reported.
Lacey made the announcement on Thursday as local law enforcement agencies investigate allegations made against Hollywood heavyweights including producer Harvey Weinstein, director James Toback and actor Ed Westwick, reports The Los Angeles Times.
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 establishing the task force makde 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.
"It is a good idea to have veteran, experienced prosecutors on these cases. But people shouldn't get their expectations up."
Since allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein first surfaced in October, the number of sexual assault or lewd conduct reports against Hollywood figures has steadily escalated, reports The Los Angeles Times.
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 against Toback, who has been accused by more than 200 women of sexual misconduct.
"Gossip Girl" actor Westwick has allegedly raped two women in 2014.
The Beverly Hills Police Department also has open investigations involving Weinstein and Toback.
All three have publicly denied any wrongdoing.
District Attorney Lacey said the police were yet to forward any cases to prosecutors for review.
"We are in communications with the Los Angeles and Beverly Hills police departments."