NORRISTOWN, Pennsylvania—Cheltenham Township Sgt. Richard Schaffer took the stand Tuesday and, once again, did his best to deflect, diffuse, and downright deny the attempts by Bill Cosby’s defense lawyer to turn his own words against him.
It was Schaffer who was lead detective on the first Cosby investigation for possible sexual assault, back in 2005, and Schaffer who was still working the investigation when he learned that then-district attorney Bruce Castor suddenly closed the criminal case with no charges. Schaffer has been present the entire trial, always sitting with the prosecution witness about to testify, not missing a day.
And when he took the stand, Schaffer was not going to let defense lawyer Tom Mesereau twist his words. When Mesereau asked leading questions—like when Mesereau brought up how the case was closed more than a decade ago—Schaffer would reply not with a yes or a no but this: “That is not a correct characterization, sir.” Schaffer snuck in a defense of Andrea Constand getting a lawyer, adding this his answer, unprompted: “I know from speaking with Andrea that she wasn’t sure how our legal system works. At one point, she thought she had to have attorneys to put criminal cases on, and I told her there were two parallel systems, a criminal system and a civil system.” He even clarified when Mesereau seemed to have mixed up the two Constand women, noting that Andrea was Miss not Mrs., the latter referring to her mother.
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Schaffer wasn’t falling for it when Mesereau tried to lead him into saying that Constand’s statements wavered, especially about the date that Constand believes Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her. Mesereau asked if Constand gave “very inconsistent statements.”
“No sir,” Schaffer said. “At the heart of all the statements, that allegation follows through.”
Mesereau returned to that theme, again, when he tried getting Schaffer to say yes to questions that made it sound like Constand had been inconsistent in her statements about what type of contact she had with Cosby at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino. Schaffer wouldn’t give Mesereau the easy win, and a frustrated Mesereau phrased one of his follow-up questions poorly. Mesereau wanted to imply that there was no way Schaffer could be so certain, so he asked Schaffer a question that started with, “Were you in Foxwoods ...”
Schaffer took the easy win: “Things would have gotten weird if that was what was going on.”
The entire courtroom gallery burst into laughter.
As it grew closer to lunch, Schaffer did not back down. When inconsistencies in different police reports were invoked, Schaffer replied, “There are some mistakes there, but that is the police version of what is being said.” Schaffer then pointed out that, in Constand’s statements taken down word for word, she was consistent.
Right before the lunch break, Mesereau began quizzing Schaffer on Constand’s phone records. The intent was clear: Mesereau wanted Schaffer to say that there were hundreds of phone calls between Cosby and Constand. But Schaffer wasn’t going to give that to Mesereau. Schaffer insisted he couldn’t speak about the phone records and parrot back whatever number Mesereau wanted without looking at the records first. Mesereau kept asking for a number, but Schaffer wouldn’t be fooled.
“Some things I recall, and some things you need to refresh your memory. It’s been 13 years,” Schaffer said, referring to how long he had been with the department. “I’m getting older.”
Later, Schaffer refused to use to certain time frames for calls that Mesereau wanted saying “If you’re going to count calls, count from the proper occurrence.” When Mesereau tried giving Schaffer the numbers he wanted, Schaffer still pushed back, giving answers in which Schaffer essentially argued that an infinite number of answers were possible depending on which calls you counted and how and why. Schaffer went over all the parameters that could affect an answer and Mesereau, again sounding frustrated, said “I am asking you simple question.”
“It’s not a simple question,” Schaffer answered.
The back and forth continued, right up until the lunch break. Afterward, Schafer will return on the stand and cross examination by Mesereau will continue.
Schaffer’s testimony isn’t happening in a vacuum. The biggest story in Philadelphia right now is the case of two black men who asked to use a Starbucks bathroom and were told they couldn’t because they hadn’t bought something, leading to the store calling for police and having the men arrested. The amount of power given to America’s police is truly immense—who else can, in a moment, overrule your own rights and put you in jail with little more than your clothes on, or shoot you and then have an entire union behind them defending the shooting. Schaffer’s testimony doesn’t negate all the harm done by America’s police or negate the still vital need for ending police brutality and the ways they abuse their power.
But it was nice, for a moment, to see that immense power not abused, but used in defense of a woman who has said all she wants is justice.