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Nearly One Year After the First Civil Suit, Here’s What We Know About Deshaun Watson

On the same day the quarterback was deposed, a grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints. A Harris County prosecutor announced he would not be charged.

Editors’ note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org

Editors’ note on March 11 at 5:30 p.m ET: This story has been updated to reflect the grand jury’s verdict on Watson’s criminal charges. 

Nearly a year ago, Ashley Solis filed the first civil lawsuit against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Her account detailed that it was “apparent that Watson wanted the massage for only one reason—sex,” describing how in one session he “purposefully touched the Plaintiff's hand” with the tip of his penis. As the news of the lawsuit spread across the country, another surfaced on the Harris County District Clerk’s website later the next day. Then another one.

Watson has, at some point, faced 23 civil lawsuits. Multiple judges ruled that the names of the plaintiffs had to be disclosed and one lawsuit was dropped by a plaintiff “for now,” according to court documents, “in light of privacy and security concerns.” Solis initially filed her lawsuit as “Jane Doe” but, in anticipation of the ruling that her name must be disclosed, she revealed her identity in a press conference last April. That day, she said that she is “a survivor of assault and harassment” and that Watson “is my assaulter and my harasser.”

Watson reportedly faced 10 criminal complaints, and a Harris County prosecutor presented its case to a grand jury on March 11. The jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against the Texans quarterback. The prosecutor announced he would not be charged.  

Watson, 26, still faces 22 active civil lawsuits each describing graphic incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault. All plaintiffs are represented by Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee.

The allegations launched investigations by the Houston Police Department and the NFL, all while Watson remains on the Texans’ roster. The quarterback, through written and public statements by his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has denied any wrongdoing, referring to the civil lawsuits as a “money grab.” The district attorney presented criminal cases to a grand jury Friday, the same day Watson was deposed for the civil cases; he invoked his Fifth Amendment right, per The New York Times’ Kevin Draper

As the civil deposition proceedings continue, here’s what has happened on and off the field since Watson’s last snap.

Nearly one year since the first civil suit was filed, here’s what we know.


What are the Accusations Against Watson?

The allegations the quarterback faces are graphic, ranging from exposing himself without consent to forcing women into sexual acts. One of the lawsuits stated that his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.” According to another filing, Watson told one plaintiff, “I make a lot of massage therapists uncomfortable and it’s really hard for me to find someone who will meet my needs ...”

Women in more than 17 lawsuits say that Watson exposed himself, while at least 18 assert that he touched women with his penis. Women in at least four lawsuits say that Watson forced himself on the plaintiff, either by kissing them or via forcing his penis into their mouths.

One lawsuit detailed that Watson assaulted the plaintiff by shutting the doors to a room, locking the doors and eventually grabbing the therapist’s hands. Per court documents, he moved them toward his genitals and forced her hands onto his penis “to get her to pleasure him.” According to the lawsuit, Watson later said, “I will not have you sign a NDA but don’t ever talk about this.”

Another read, “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 filings also described Watson’s ignoring the plaintiffs’ requests to remain professional or when they said no to his requests. One plaintiff described how during one session she was “mentally beat, the pressure from Waton’s [sic] relentless instruction coercing her against her will left her powerless.” According to the court records, the plaintiff followed what Watson had been instructing her to do “in an effort to finally end the massage session and with hopes to be free to leave.” 

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The plaintiff “placed her hand on his penis while he raised his hips masturbating himself,” and in the process, Watson allegedly repeatedly tried to kiss the plaintiff and grabbed her thighs and buttocks.

Women in multiple lawsuits also said the quarterback made veiled threats. One plaintiff detailed in her lawsuit that she 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.”

Watson made requests for the plaintiffs, some licensed massage therapists and some unlicensed, to focus on a variety of areas initially, including his back and thighs. However, he would then, the women said, guide them toward his groin, requesting they go higher.

Another plaintiff said that Watson had told her he was looking for a massage to relax his muscles. The lawsuit states that 10 minutes into the massage, “Watson aggressively dictated how the massage was to go from that point on.” He informed her he wanted her to focus on his glutes.

After she was done massaging Watson’s glutes and attempted to make her way up his back, he insisted he did not want her to work on his back. Instead, he asked her to penetrate his anus with her fingers.

According to Jenny Vrentas of The New York Timesthe criminal complaints include similar descriptions, including Watson’s ejaculating on them and either sexual assault or attempted sexual assault.

One common thread among the lawsuits, aside from the pattern in the women’s accounts, is that Watson largely contacted the plaintiffs via a social media platform. Search warrants were reportedly issued last year for access to all platforms owned by Facebook, including Instagram and Cash App and Snapchat. The warrant reportedly detailed allegations from nine women that the Watson coerced them into sexual encounters, as previously reported by ABC13 Eyewitness News.

Watson, in statements released through his attorney, has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement released last April, Hardin said, “The answer to the question of whether we are saying that all 22 plaintiffs are lying about the allegations of sexual misconduct by Mr. Watson is a resounding yes.”

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 13: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks on in action during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Houston Texans on December 13, 2020, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.

What Criminal Charges Could Watson Face?

On Friday, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is presenting its case against Watson to a grand jury. The grand jury’s role is to determine whether the state has sufficient evidence to charge the quarterback, using evidence and testimonies. Texas requires defendants to be indicted by a grand jury to bring about felony charges, though they can also choose to indict on lesser charges. (Unlike a regular jury, which is used to determine innocence or guilt, a grand jury is used only to decide whether the state has probable cause to file charges.)

Houston PD noted in the search warrants issued for Watson’s social media accounts that they were investigating indecent assault as the crime committed, Vrentas has reported. Indecent assault is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas and carries a maximum $4,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

Multiple women who filed criminal complaints against Watson had been subpoenaed to testify in Friday’s grand jury hearing.

On March 11, the prosecutor announced that Watson would not face charges, after a grand jury returned nine “no” bills on nine criminal complaints against him. 

Hardin released a statement following the verdict. 

“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Hardin said, per NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses. Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.

“There were no crimes here but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a pay day. These cases have been the product of a lawyer maximizing his own personal publicity at the expense of others, including his own clients.It is time to let Deshaun move on.”


Where do the Civil Lawsuits Stand?

Friday marks the first of the quarterback’s depositions pertaining to the 22 active civil lawsuits describing sexual harrasment and sexual assault, and it happens to be the same day the grand jury will hear the Harris County District Attorney’s case against him.

According to The Times, eight of the 10 women who filed criminal complaints also filed civil lawsuits; however, Watson reportedly won’t be deposed yet for those specific cases.

On Feb. 21, a Harris County Judge ruled that Watson could be deposed in nine of the 22 active civil suits against him, meaning that information Watson discloses in Friday’s deposition could incriminate him. Hardin attempted to delay the depositions, but the court denied it and ruled that though Watson can be deposed for the civil suits, he can testify in the criminal complaints after April 1. Hardin said Watson is planning on invoking his Fifth Amendment right during the deposition.

Civil complaints are cases in which the plaintiff is not seeking prison time or criminal fines for the defendant. Instead, the plaintiff must present to the court the injuries or damages sustained, prove how the defendant caused harm and demonstrate that the court has jurisdiction. If the court rules in the plaintiff’s favor, the court can rule for the defendant to provide financial compensation to the plaintiff and order the defendant to stop the conduct that is causing harm.

In the 22 active civil complaints against Watson, all plaintiffs want action for damages that range from “conscious physical and mental pain and suffering, and anguish” to “reasonable and necessary medical, counseling, psychiatric, therapeutic and related expenses.” They also want “exemplary damages to deter such conduct going forward, and to make an example of this Defendant.”

In cases of sexual misconduct, survivors often prefer civil lawsuits over criminal complaints for a number of reasons beyond financial reparations (which are a normal part of the justice system for any crime). The criminal justice system is ill-equipped to deal with sexual violence, investigations can retraumatize survivors and there is a lack of control over a case handled by police. A civil case, on the other hand, is guided by the survivor. According to a University of Texas study, more than 90% of sexual assaults in the state go unreported.

Civil cases are usually urged to be resolved in other manners besides a trial. Common practices are mediation, arbitration and settlements. In November, Buzbee said that settlement talks between him and Watson’s legal team had broken down.

December 27, 2020: Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) enters the tunnel after an NFL, American Football Herren, USA football game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX.

Has the NFL Suspended Watson?

Watson is not currently suspended by the NFL, nor is he on the league’s commissioner exempt list. He was allowed to return to Texans training camp in July and remained on the roster throughout the 2021 season, but was not on the active roster for any of the team’s 17 games.

The NFL launched its investigation into Watson on March 18. By August, investigators had interviewed 10 of the 22 plaintiffs represented by Buzbee, with the 11th scheduled. Lauren Baxley, a massage therapist who says she was assaulted and harassed by Watson, recounted her meeting with league investigators to Vrentas, then of Sports Illustrated.

Baxley described the tone of her interview with league investigators Lisa Friel and Jennifer Gaffney as “patronizing” and “victim-blaming.”

“My forensic interview [with HPD] was very respectful and trauma-informed,” Baxley told Vrentas. “They let me speak uninterrupted, whereas with Lisa Friel and the [other NFL investigator], they would cut me off, they would question things, they would circle back.”

According to the NFL’s 2020 personal conduct policy, for players to land on the exempt list, they must be formally charged with “a crime of violence, meaning that he is accused … of having engaged in a sexual assault by force or against a person who was incapable of giving consent, or having engaged in other conduct that poses a genuine danger to the safety or well-being of another person.”

“How do you define violence? Because I felt like I was violently attacked psychologically when I was stuck in that room with him,” Baxely told Vrentas. “I know that I’m not the only one who felt that way, and I'm not the only one who continues to feel that way.”

A player can also land on the exempt list if the commissioner, through an investigation, believes a player may have violated any of the conduct identified above. The commissioner “can act where the circumstance and evidence warrant doing so.”

In October, commissioner Roger Goodell said that the league doesn’t “feel we have that necessary information to place [Watson] on the exempt list.” Some team owners went to the commissioner to see whether he’d be placed on it, but were never given a straight answer, per The MMQB’s Albert Breer.

The last update concerning the league’s investigation into the quarterback was given via statement on Dec. 16 to ABC13. It stated that it was still ongoing.


Are Any NFL Teams Interested in Acquiring Watson From the Texans?

Despite the allegations against him, numerous teams reportedly entertained the idea of trading for Watson last season, most notably the Dolphins.

Reports began linking Miami and Watson in August 2021. On Oct. 20, a report from the Houston Chronicle stated that Miami and Houston were close to securing a deal, saying it could happen that week. The trade never materialized ahead of the Nov. 2 deadline.

Rapoport cited that a big draw for Watson was then Dolphins coach Brian Flores, and Watson was willing to waive his no-trade clause to play in Miami.

The Dolphins officially closed the door on Watson on March 2.

“The door is shut on Deshaun Watson,” Miami general manager Chris Grier said, per Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. Grier’s comment came a day after Houston GM Nick Caserio said the Texans are taking the quarterback situation “day-by-day.”

The Giants also shut down the possibility of trading for Watson.

“We’re not trading for Deshaun Watson,” Giants co-owner John Mara said on Jan. 26. “There are so many reasons why we wouldn’t do that. Cap-wise, we couldn’t afford [the acquisition], but more importantly, with the allegations that are out there right now, that is just not the right fit for us.”

Miami and New York were not the only teams interested in Watson—Carolina was, too. The Panthers initially showed interest during the previous offseason, before the sexual misconduct allegations became public, aggressively clearing cap space and rumored to be part of the sweepstakes for Watson. Now, a year later, the Panthers are once again interested in Watson, according to The Charlotte Observer’s Jonathan M. Alexander. The Panthers are reportedly back in talks with Houston.

NFL free agency begins Monday at noon ET; signings can become official on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Rumors continue to swirl on the status of the quarterback and where he will land next. As of March 9, teams are reportedly still in the mix for Watson, with Rapoport calling the market for the quarterback “robust.” Along with the Panthers, Rapoport identified the Buccaneers and Seahawks as “among the teams” that could be interested in a trade for Watson.

Watson hasn’t played a snap since January 2021, and it was later reported that he asked to be traded from Houston that same month. After the initial filings in March 2021, rumors swirled that the lawsuits arose in response to Watson’s trade request. However, SI obtained text messages that showed plaintiff Solis had contacted Buzbee’s law firm in December 2020.

Lovie Smith, who was hired as Houston’s coach on Feb. 7, said on The Rich Eisen Show regarding the Watson situation that “time will take care of it.”

Despite never suiting up in a Texans uniform in the 2021 season, Watson was paid $10.5 million

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