Twenty-two civil lawsuits have been filed in the last three weeks against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, alleging sexual harassment and assault.
These 22 civil lawsuits currently on the Harris County District Clerk's website allege sexual harassment and assault during massage appointments over the last year, including one earlier in March.
The allegations range from refusing to cover his genitals to forcing women to give him oral sex. The news of the first filing broke on the evening of March 16 after Houston attorney Tony Buzbee disclosed the news on social media, and details of the first lawsuit came out the following morning.
In addition to the civil lawsuits, Houston Police Department released a statement on Friday (April 2) stating that someone has filed a report on Watson.
As a result of the civil lawsuits, Nike has suspended its endorsement of the Texans quarterback.
Here's what we know about the lawsuits against Watson.
What is Watson accused of?
The lawsuits say that Watson sexually harassed and assaulted a number of massage therapists. The specific accusations are wide-ranging but include descriptions of him exposing himself without consent, forcing women into sexual acts and making veiled threats.
"Watson's behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women," one of the lawsuits says.
One lawsuit, for instance, says that Watson "assaulted and harassed Plaintiff by exposing himself to her and touching her with his penis." The massage therapist says the incident, which took place at a house in Los Angeles last July, occurred after Watson grabbed her hands and guided them toward his genitals before forcing them onto his penis. He then, according to the lawsuit, attempted to "get her to pleasure him."
One of the lawsuits filed on March 30 details an incident in Arizona where Watson made "obscene sexual requests" to the plaintiff, a massage therapist, including "request[ing] she penetrate his anus with her fingers and to massage him there."
Another lawsuit, stemming from incidents that took place last summer, alleges that during the massage sessions, "Watson assaulted and harassed the Plaintiff by grabbing Plaintiff's buttocks and vagina, touching her with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him."
The latest lawsuit (No. 22) alleges that Watson "assaulted and harassed Plaintiff by touching her with his penis and exposing himself." It also claims that Watson has "used more than fifty different women for massages," adding that "some made clear that they were unlicensed, and others made sure they did not specialize in massage therapy."
More than 11 lawsuits allege that Watson exposed himself, while at least 12 filings assert that he touched women with his penis, either once or repeatedly. At least four lawsuits allege that Watson forced himself on the women, either by kissing them or via oral sex.
His "aggressive" behavior, as the lawsuits put it, created a pattern of sexual misconduct where some of the women felt they could not say no or stop him. Almost all cited a desire to protect their own business or the company where they worked.
One woman says in a filing that it was "apparent that Watson wanted the massage for only one reason—sex."
One filing alleges that Watson told a licensed massage therapist that he makes "a lot of massage therapists uncomfortable and it's really hard for me to find someone who will meet my needs." In another case, Watson allegedly told a different licensed massage therapist, "I will not have you sign [an] NDA, but don't ever talk about this."
According to a separate lawsuit, another woman felt threatened when he said, "I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don't want anyone messing with mine."
One of the lawsuits filed on Monday also claims that "as a result of the repeated lawsuits against him, Watson is deleting Instagram messages and contacting those who formally [sic] provided him massages, in an attempt to settle."
On Monday (March 29), Sports Illustrated detailed the account of a licensed massage therapist who owns her own business in Houston and is not one of Buzbee’s plaintiffs, but said that her session with Watson was unlike anything she’s experienced from any other client she has treated.
SI initiated contact with her before learning she had worked with Watson, a session that predates the timelines detailed in any of the lawsuits filed.
“More than anything, the fact that he’s denying all the allegations makes it more of a reason for us to use our voice and say what we have to say,” she told SI's Jenny Vrentas.
When did the alleged incidents take place?
The lawsuits cite events dating back to March 30, 2020, and as recent as March 5, 2021, with sessions taking place in multiple states and venues.
Buzbee also revealed during a press conference on March 19 that a Texans trainer referred Watson to one of the women he is representing, and Watson's personal quarterback coach connected him with another one of the women.
Here's a timeline of the incidents:
- March 30, 2020, at the plaintiff's home in Texas.
- April 19, 2020, at a Houston spa.
- May 28, 2020, at Watson's home in Houston.
- June 2, 2020, at a Houston spa.
- June 2020 and Aug. 17, 2020, at a hotel and later a spa in Houston.
- July 2020, at the plaintiff's house in Houston.
- July 2020, in Arizona.
- Four sessions, July 2020-September 2020, in Texas.
- July 15, 2020, at a home in Beverly Hills, Calif.
- Aug. 2, 2020, at a hotel in Houston.
- Aug. 28, 2020, at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa.
- Multiple encounters between Sept. 9, 2020, and October 2020, at a Houston spa.
- Sept. 24, 2020, at a rented room in a Houston salon.
- Two sessions, Oct. 19 and around November 2, 2020, at the plaintiff's office in Houston.
- Oct. 8, 2020, at a Houston spa.
- Oct. 19, 2020, at the plaintiff's office in Houston.
- Nov. 6 and 10, 2020, at the plaintiff's mother's house in Texas.
- Nov. 9, 2020, at the plaintiff's office in Houston.
- Dec. 28, 2020, at a Houston office building.
- Sometime in 2020.
- Jan. 21, 2021, in Houston.
- March 5, 2021, at a massage therapy business in Sandy Springs, Ga.
Have any of the plaintiffs been named?
Two survivors of alleged Watson assaults publicly identified themselves during a press conference on April 6.
Both women, Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, are massage therapists. Solis attended the news conference held at Buzbee's office. Baxley's account was read aloud in a prepared statement.
"I will not let Deshaun Watson define who I am. I will not let him win. He needs to be held accountable for his actions," Solis said. "I will not let him take my power away. I am strong now, and I know who I am."
"... I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman. And I come forward now in the hopes that no other human being will assault another in the future."
Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, released a statement Tuesday evening in response to the press conference. He specifically commented on Solis saying the lawsuit is not for money. Hardin mentioned that Buzbee's associate, Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, had sought "$100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit."
Hardin filed a motion requesting that the Harris County District Court mandate the anonymous plaintiffs suing Watson to identify themselves, and two judges ruled in their favor on April 9.
In separate hearings on Friday, state district Judge Dedra Davis granted Watson's attorney a request to identify one of the 22 plaintiffs. Buzbee will have two days to re-file. A second judge made the same determination in the cases of 12 other women Friday afternoon.
Could there be additional filings or criminal charges?
Watson could be facing more civil lawsuits and potentially criminal charges.
Buzbee told Houston's Fox 26 on March 22 that 24 women have come forward with allegations about Watson. As of Friday evening (April 9), 22 civil cases had been filed.
Last weekend, Buzbee posted a statement on Instagram saying his team would be "submitting affidavits and evidence from several women, who had experiences with Deshaun Watson, to the Houston Police Department and the Houston District Attorney" on Monday, March 22.
"We will request that a grand jury be empaneled to consider the evidence we provide," Buzbee wrote.
However, Houston Police Department told ABC 13 Eyewitness News on March 25 that it had not yet received any documentation of evidence from Buzbee.
On Tuesday night, Buzbee said on Instagram that he doesn't feel comfortable going to the Houston Police Department with any information and that he and his clients "will go elsewhere to provide our evidence to investigative authorities."
HPD Chief Art Acevedo responded to Buzbee's comments on Wednesday (March 31) via Twitter, saying, "Mr. Buzbee can cast all the baseless assertions about the hard working men and women of @houstonpolice he wants, but he can’t run away from history and the truth of the professionalism of our men and women. We stand ready to investigate all allegations."
On Friday (April 2), Houston Police Department released a statement saying that someone has filed a report on Watson.
“We welcome this long overdue development," Watson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, told ESPN's Sarah Barshop. "Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
In a statement later that same evening, Buzbee said a 22nd civil lawsuit has been filed against Watson, and confirmed that additional criminal complaints will be filed against the Texans quarterback.
How has Watson responded?
Watson denied the accusations in a statement on Twitter on March 16, but has been silent since. David Mulugheta, Watson's agent, echoed his client's denial on March 19.
“Sexual assault is real. Victims should be heard, offenders prosecuted,” Mulugheta wrote. “Individuals fabricate stories in pursuit of financial gain often. Their victims should be heard, and those offenders also prosecuted. I simply hope we keep this same energy with the truth."
Hardin said on March 23 that he believes "any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false."
He continued, saying in a statement that his law firm has "strong evidence" showing that at least one of the women involved in these lawsuits attempted to blackmail Watson. That now "calls into question the legitimacy of the other cases as well."
The incident allegedly occurred in January 2021, when a woman requested $30,000 in exchange for her "indefinite silence about what she stated was a consensual encounter."
Hardin released a signed affidavit from the quarterback's marketing manager, Bryan Burney. In that document, Burney states that he spoke with someone he believes is the plaintiff in the third case filed by Buzbee.
On Monday (March 29), Hardin told ESPN's Barshop that Watson has not deleted any Instagram messages over the last two weeks and "categorically" denied that his client contacted any of the women directly.
"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."
Hardin held a press conference on April 9 explaining why he and Watson had been silent.
"This has been incredible ordeal for Deshaun," Hardin said in an opening statement. "We toyed with the idea of having him here today but ultimately decided against that because it served no purpose because it was not going allow him to answer any questions."
The attorney continued, saying he hadn't spoken until that Friday afternoon because "he does not know" what happened for sure due to not having the identities of the plaintiffs.
Hardin said he plans to take all 22 lawsuits filed against Watson to trial. He did acknowledge that there were "consensual acts" between the quarterback and some of the 22 women who filed lawsuits.
He reaffirmed that at no point did Watson engage in any acts that weren't "mutually desired."
"Were there sometimes consensual encounters? Yes," Hardin said.
He was asked to clarify his comments, to which he replied, "In some of these massages there's going to be no question. We've never run from it."
"I'm not going to go into what it is or the nature or the numbers or with whom," Hardin said about any consensual encounters between Watson and some of the plaintiffs. "But I think you can rightfully assume that. The question always that we have always been emphasizing: Never at any time, under any circumstances ... did this young man ever engage in anything that was not mutually desired by the other party."
How is the NFL handling the allegations?
Buzbee posted, deleted and then reposted a confidential letter from the NFL's special counsel for investigations, Lisa Friel, that confirmed the league is investigating the sexual assault allegations against Watson.
An NFL spokesperson confirmed to Sports Illustrated on March 18 that "the matter is under review of [the league's] personal conduct policy."
The Texans released a statement March 18, stating that they were informed of the league's investigation and will "stay in close contact with the league as they do."
On April 5, Texans owner Cal McNair wrote in a letter to season ticket holders saying the team is taking the allegations of assault against Watson "very seriously."
"As reported, HPD and the National Football League are conducting investigations and we will cooperate fully," McNair wrote. "We respect the legal process and will continue to monitor the situation closely."
“While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault. Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior. We will continue to commit resources to help prevent abusive behaviors from occurring in our community and ensure respect for all.
"... This is deeply personal to our family and remains a priority.”
What's the deal with rumors linking Buzbee to the Texans?
Given that the quarterback and the franchise are at odds and the timing of these lawsuits, rumors started surfacing that there could be a connection between Tony Buzbee and the Texans, specifically the McNair family, which owns the team.
Without being prompted, Buzbee said at a press conference on March 19 that while he does live near the family, he would not recognize them on the street.
"This case has nothing to do with the Texans, has nothing to do with free agency, the timing," Buzbee said. "I don't know anything about that silliness, and I frankly don't care about it. [The] Texans are not a team that I follow. This case is instead about women, brave women. Brave women who are willing to step forward knowing that they will be criticized and ostracized."
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