Sports

Deshaun Watson now facing 22 sexual misconduct lawsuits; QB also hit with criminal complaint

Not only is Deshaun Watson facing 22 separate civil lawsuits, but the Texans quarterback has now also been hit with a criminal complaint, the Houston Police Department announced on April 2. It’s the first criminal complaint that’s been filed against Watson since the first lawsuit was filed in mid-March. 

“A complainant filed a report with the Houston Police Department concerning Deshaun Watson,” the HPD said in a statement. “As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process.”

Houston police haven’t revealed any details about the complaint, so it’s unknown if it’s related to any of the lawsuits that have been filed by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee. The Texas lawyer filed the lawsuits in court on behalf of multiple women who are all claiming that Watson committed at least one act of sexual misconduct or assault against them. The suits are all similar in nature: In each case, Watson is accused of acting inappropriately after hiring a female to give him a private massage. 

One of the lawsuits refers to Watson as a “serial predator” and includes allegations that he sexually assaulted a massage therapist in California. Most of the massage therapists were hired through Instagram, and in one lawsuit, Watson is accused of trying to delete (or unsend) the Instagram messages he used to initially contact the woman. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has denied that charge. 

Hardin responded to the rest of the allegations on March 23. In a statement provided to CBSSports.com, the attorney wrote that “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.”

Watson’s lawyer also responded to the criminal complaint on April 2. 

“We welcome this long overdue development,” Hardin said in a statement. “Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”

From a football standpoint, the NFL opened an investigation against the Texans quarterback on March 18 to see if he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and that investigation is ongoing. 

Here are the latest details on the allegations (Warning, there are some graphic details): 

Lawsuit one

The allegations in the first lawsuit took place on March 30, 2020 at the home of the woman who was hired to give him a massage. In this lawsuit, which you can read here, the central allegation is that “Watson assaulted the Plaintiff by touching her with his penis.” According to the lawsuit, Watson allegedly reached out to the massage therapist on Instagram and asked if she would be willing to give him a massage. Before the two agreed on anything, Watson allegedly asked the woman if the “focus” of the massage could be “on his groin area.”

The woman claims that about 25 minutes into the session it became clear that “Watson wanted a massage for only one reason — sex.” 

Eventually, the woman started crying and before she was able to get Watson to leave, he allegedly said “I know you have a career and reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” 

The woman took that as a threat that Watson might try to ruin her career if she said anything. 

Lawsuit two

The second lawsuit involves an incident that allegedly took place on Aug. 28, 2020. Like the first lawsuit, Watson is accused of reaching out to a massage therapist on Instagram. In this lawsuit, Watson is accused of exposing himself and inappropriately touching the woman. In this case, the woman was from Atlanta and Watson allegedly flew her to Houston where she was supposed to give him a massage at a local hotel. 

Before the day of the appointment, Watson allegedly asked the woman if she would be willing to work on his “glutes” and “groin” area. According to the woman, Watson got completely nude prior to the massage. After that happened, the woman pointed out that he should be wearing at least a towel, but Watson allegedly refused to put one on. Once the woman realized Watson wanted more than a massage, she left the hotel room. 

According to the lawsuit, Watson’s behavior is viewed as “part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.”

Lawsuit three 

The third lawsuit involves a situation that allegedly took place on Dec. 28, 2020. Once again, Watson is accused of setting up a massage appointment by using the messaging function on Instagram to contact a relatively unknown massage therapist. In this case, the quarterback allegedly set up an appointment that was to he held at a Houston-area office building. 

According to this lawsuit, Watson actually forced the woman “to perform oral sex on him.” According to ESPN.com, the woman wrote in the lawsuit that she felt “intimidated and threatened” and that “she was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.”

Subsequent lawsuits

After the first three lawsuits came out, Buzbee said there would be more and he wasn’t exaggerating. The Texas lawyer filed four more lawsuits on March 19. In the fourth lawsuit that was filed, Watson is accused of sexually assaulting one woman two times. The first incident allegedly occurred in September 2020 and the second assault allegedly took place in October 2020. 

Watson was also hit with seven more lawsuits on March 22, bringing the total to 14. According to one of the lawsuits that was filed Monday and obtained by ESPN, Watson is accused of sexually assaulting a female massage therapist just weeks ago by “touching her with his penis and exposing himself.”

The 13th lawsuit, which was filed Monday afternoon, alleges Watson harassed and inappropriately touched a professional esthetician while she was performing a massage in April 2020. There were also two more lawsuits filed on March 23, which brought the total to 16. 

The quarterback was then hit with three more lawsuits on March 29, which means the total is now at 19. In one of the three filings from March 29, one plaintiff said she knew the quarterback through mutual friends, which makes this the first lawsuit to where a plaintiff admitted she knew who Watson was before accepting a job to give him a massage. In another lawsuit from March 29, Buzbee is now alleging that Watson has been deleting Instagram messages, according to the Houston Chronicle. In that same lawsuit, Watson has been accused of reaching out to some of the women “in an attempt to settle.” 

Watson’s lawyer has denied that the quarterback has been trying to settle any of the cases.  

The quarterback was also hit with to two more lawsuits on March 31. One of the cases was filed by a massage therapist in Arizona, which means Watson is now facing accusations in a total of four states (Texas, Arizona, California and Georgia). Overall, Watson has been hit with a total of 22 lawsuits with the most recent suit being filed on April 5

Watson’s response

After Buzbee publicly announced that the first lawsuit would be filed on March 17, Watson immediately issued a statement on Twitter where he denied all the allegations against him. 

“As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me,” Watson wrote. “I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect. The plaintiff’s lawyer claims that this isn’t about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me — it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.”

Watson released that statement on March 16 after the first lawsuit came out, but hasn’t commented on the situation since then. Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, followed up the quarterback’s statement with a statement of his own on March 23 where he denied all the allegations. 

Watson’s attorney fires back 

In a lengthy statement sent to the media, not only did Hardin claim that the allegations are false, but he also accused Buzbee of orchestrating “a circus-like atmosphere” surrounding the case. 

“Opposing counsel has orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to publicize 14 ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuits during the past seven days in a manner calculated to inflame the public and malign Deshaun’s otherwise sterling reputation,” Hardin wrote. 

Watson’s attorney also pointed out that Buzbee has refused to turn over the names of the plaintiffs. 

“The tactic of refusing our requests to confidentially provide the names of the plaintiffs so we can fully investigate their claims makes uncovering the truth extremely difficult,” Hardin said. “Anonymity is often necessary as a shield for victims but opposing counsel has used it as a sword to publicly humiliate Deshaun before the truth‑seeking process can even begin.”

Hardin also added that be believes one of the woman who filed a lawsuit against Watson once tried to blackmail the Texans quarterback. 

“I believe that any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false,” Hardin wrote. “And in the one case in which we have been able to identify a plaintiff, we have strong evidence showing the allegation is false. In January of this year, a woman attempted to blackmail Deshaun by demanding $30,000 in exchange for her “indefinite silence” about what she stated was a consensual encounter.”

Basically, Hardin made it clear that Watson is going to fight every single claim that’s been made against him. 

“We are taking the allegations very seriously but we ask only that people not rush to judgment, that people not be unduly influenced by opposing counsel’s antics, and that they let fundamental fairness to both sides rule the day,” Hardin wrote. “Thank you for your patience and understanding.”

In a separate statement sent out on March 29, Hardin denied the allegations that Watson had been deleting Instagram messages as way to get rid of evidence. Hardin also added that the quarterback will be fighting to clear his name and is not currently looking to settle any of the cases. 

“Like a lot of people, Deshaun regularly deletes past Instagram messages,” Hardin said. “That said, he has not deleted any messages since March 15th, the day before the first lawsuit was filed. We categorically deny that he has reached out directly to his accusers in an attempt to settle these cases.”

Multiple massage therapists come out in defense of Watson

Although Watson currently has 21 lawsuits pending against him, there are nearly 20 massage therapists who have to decided to go on the record to voice their support for the beleaguered Texans quarterback. Hardin released the names of each therapist on March 31 and they range from a  licensed physical therapist with a degree in Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization to one woman who once served as the as supervisor of Houston Methodist’s massage program. 

Several of the women who came out in support of Watson were hired through Instagram. 

“Deshaun first contacted me in February (2021) by direct message on Instagram after he saw a flyer that I had posted,” one massage therapist said in a statement that was provided to CBSSports.com. “I have worked on him two times and in both instances he asked for a sports massage with a focus on his abs, abductors, thighs and glutes. Each session lasted an hour and he supplied the draping towel, which was the size of a beach towel.”

One doctor, who currently serves as the director of rehabilitation services at a hospital in Houston, said that she’s worked with Watson multiple times and has never once felt uncomfortable around him. 

“I worked with Deshaun several times in 2019 and 2020. He was very quiet during our sessions, often played his music and zoned out,” the doctor said. “Like most athletes, he requested that I focus on his hamstrings, abs and adductors. He never made me uncomfortable and was always professional during our sessions.” 

Hardin said he provided a statement from each of the 18 women as a way to show “the other side to this story.”

Reaction from the Texans

It seems the Texans found out about the first lawsuit on March 16, and after the allegations came out, the team quickly released a statement.

“We became aware of a civil lawsuit involving Deshaun Watson through a social media post [on Tuesday night],” the team said. “This is the first time we heard of the matter, and we hope to learn more soon. We take accusations of this nature that involve anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously. We will await further information before making any additional statements on this incident.”

Texans general manager Nick Caserio spoke publicly for the first time about the allegations on the team’s podcast March 29

“We certainly take them very seriously,” Caserio said. “The allegations, what’s been discussed, are certainly troubling. Organizationally that’s not something that we can condone, those types of actions. We’ll let the legal process take care of itself.”

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on April 2 that Houston could add veteran Alex Smith to its quarterback room as a potential starter depending on how the Watson situation plays out.

NFL is now investigating 

Buzbee shared a letter on March 18 that came from NFL senior vice president Lisa Friel, who runs the league’s special counsel for investigations. 

“I became aware of the lawsuits you filed [March 17], as well as the one you filed this morning, which contain various allegations of misconduct by Houston Texans player Deshaun Watson,” Friel wrote in a letter that was posted to Instagram by Buzbee (The post has since been deleted). “I am writing to let you know that the League has opened an investigation into these allegations and to request the cooperation of your clients in our investigation. Such cooperation would begin with engaging in Zoom interviews with myself and another League investigator at which, of course, you would be present. Please let me know at your earliest convenience if your clients are willing to assist us with our investigation of their allegations.”

The Texans have said that they will be staying in “close contact” with the league over the course of the investigation. 

With the league now investigating, there’s a chance that Watson could be hit with a punishment if the NFL finds that there’s any merit to the allegations. With an ongoing NFL investigation, it might also become more difficult for the Texans to trade their star quarterback as other teams might want to see how the investigation plays out before making a deal for the 25-year-old. 

Possible police involvement

Although Watson isn’t currently facing any criminal charges, that could change especially given the Houston Police Department’s now ongoing investigation. Buzbee said he plans to cooperate with authorities and he also said during his March 19 press conference that he plans to put a packet together for police that will detail each incident. The lawyer also added that filing a police report will be part of his “next step.”

On the other hand, that “next step” might not be coming and that’s because it appears Buzbee doesn’t trust the Houston Police Department. In a statement posted to Instagram in late March, Buzbee pointed out that the son of Watson’s lawyer works for the HPD. 

“My legal opponent, Mr. Hardin, has a son who is on of the exclusive Command Staff of HPD,” Buzbee wrote. “I am not saying in any way that Deshaun Watson’s lawyer, Mr. Hardin, has a son who has a position that would compromise HPD and its investigation. I support his service, along with all Houston police officers — I think the rank and file know that. But, I am saying that me and my clients will go elsewhere to provide our evidence to investigative authorities. Stand by.”

Based on the lawsuits that have been filed, Buzbee doesn’t necessarily have to look to file criminal charges in Houston. Watson is accused of sexual misconduct and/or assault in at least three other states besides Texas and Buzbee could seek criminal investigations and potential charges in any one of those jurisdictions.  




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