HOUSTON — At the beginning of March, the conversation surrounding quarterback Deshaun Watson was about whether the Houston Texans would grant his wish to be traded.
It was a rocky start to the 2021 offseason, during which Watson reportedly was upset with the way the team had handled the search for its next general manager and refused to return calls to Houston’s front office. Watson still has not directly informed the Texans why he wants to be traded.
Watson scrubbed his social media platforms of mentions of the team that traded up to draft him in 2017 and signed him to four-year, $156 million extension in September, telling those close to him he never wanted to play for the Texans again.
But just as quickly, the conversation shifted after Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee filed the first of more than 20 lawsuits against Watson, alleging behavior from sexual misconduct to sexual assault that occurred since March 2020.
Here’s a look at everything that has happened since the night the first lawsuit was filed.
On the night before the start of the new NFL year, Buzbee posted a photo of Deshaun Watson on Instagram, announcing in the caption that he filed a civil lawsuit against the Texans quarterback.
“I am extremely proud to represent those who have no perceived power against those who have PERCEIVED power,” Buzbee wrote. “Things are changing in this country, in this great state, and in this great city. And I feel like it’s for the better, for all of us! Today we filed suit against Deshaun Watson.”
Buzbee did not say what the lawsuit was alleging, but wrote, “Too many times women have put up with behavior that we all know no one should put up with.”
That night, Watson posted a statement on Twitter, saying he had not seen the lawsuit but had previously rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand.”
“I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect,” Watson said in his statement.
The following morning, the Texans released a statement saying the social media post was the first they had heard of the incident.
“We take accusations of this nature that involve anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously,” the team said in the statement. “We will await further information before making any additional statements on this incident.”
After the Texans made that statement, the lawsuit was available on the Houston County District Clerk’s website. The lawsuit alleges Watson touched a female massage therapist with his penis during a massage.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff “began to feel extremely uncomfortable” and “it became apparent that Watson wanted a massage for only one reason — sex.” It accuses Watson of exposing himself and subsequently touching the woman.
In the lawsuit, the massage therapist alleges that after she asked Watson to leave, the quarterback made a statement that she considered to be a threat. The lawsuit also says Watson later texted her to apologize.
That day, Watson hired Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin to represent him.
“I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts,” Hardin told ESPN that day, adding that Watson “has a great reputation here in the Houston area, and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”
Later that day, Buzbee filed a second lawsuit against Watson, which alleges Watson booked a massage with a masseuse over Instagram and flew her to Houston from Atlanta. When she arrived at the hotel where the massage was scheduled to take place, the suit says Watson was nude on a massage table and refused to cover himself with a towel despite several requests. It also says he inappropriately touched the woman.
The lawsuit says, “Watson’s behavior is part of a disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women.”
The NFL said in a statement that they are aware of the matter but declined further comment.
The third lawsuit alleges Watson sent a direct message to the plaintiff over Instagram and then scheduled a massage for Dec. 28, 2020, at an office building in Houston.
After leaving the room, the massage therapist alleges she returned to find Watson lying on the massage table on his stomach with a small towel covering his buttocks. She alleges when Watson turned over midway through the massage, he “got more aggressive, forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.”
The plaintiff alleges she felt “intimidated and threatened” and “she was afraid of what someone like Watson could do if she did not submit to his demands.” She says in the lawsuit Watson made it clear, repeatedly, that he could “help, or hurt, her career.” The lawsuit alleges Watson forced the woman to perform oral sex on him, and she “did not consent.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said “the matter is under review” of the league’s personal conduct policy, and the Texans said they would stay in close contact with the NFL during the league’s investigation.
Buzbee told ESPN via text message that his office had been in contact with police and “we will be sending a package” to them with information related to the cases.
Houston police declined to comment to ESPN whether they were investigating the matter. A spokesman for the Harris County district attorney’s office told ESPN that as of that point in time nobody from any law enforcement agency had provided information to the D.A.’s office about the allegations involving Watson.
Buzbee also posted to Instagram images of messages he indicated were between Watson and two of the women who had filed lawsuits against the quarterback.
That evening, four more lawsuits were filed against Watson, alleging similar inappropriate conduct and sexual assault to the previous three that had been filed.
Buzbee held a news conference during which he said one of the alleged incidents of which Watson was being accused had happened as recently as this month, which was after Buzbee said he had spoken to Scott Gaffield, who was representing Watson at the time.
Buzbee said during the news conference his office had been in contact with police and he would provide information about the women who intended to sue Watson. The Houston Police Department said in a statement posted to Twitter later that day it was unaware of any contact with Buzbee regarding the allegations or filings of any incident reports. Buzbee later wrote on social media the contact he referenced was with a detective he knows who reached out to him.
Buzbee also said he was not aware of any police reports filed before the civil suits.
“That’s going to be our next step,” Buzbee said, noting he would do so when his clients were ready but without offering a timeline.
After the news conference, Hardin issued a statement saying the allegations against Watson were “meritless.”
“I’m extremely proud to represent Deshaun Watson and wholly stand behind him against what we believe are meritless allegations,” Hardin’s statement said. “However, we will wait to comment in detail until we’ve completed our review of the numerous, evolving allegations from Mr. Buzbee. We will respond next week and ask you to keep an open mind until we do so.”
Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, posted the following on Twitter around midday:
Sexual assault is real. Victims should be heard, offenders prosecuted.
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.
— David Mulugheta (@DavidMulugheta) March 19, 2021
Buzbee said he had not had any contact with the Texans and the only contact with the NFL had been the letter he received from Lisa Friel, the league’s special counsel for investigations.
Buzbee said in an Instagram post he would submit affidavits and evidence from several women to the Houston Police Department and the Houston district attorney on March 22. He also said he would request a grand jury consider the evidence and determine whether charges should be brought against Watson by the state of Texas.
The district attorney would decide whether to grant Buzbee’s request for a grand jury. If granted, the grand jury would then decide, through witness testimony closed to the public, if there is enough evidence to succeed at trial and in turn determine whether charges should be brought against Watson by the state of Texas.
Seven more lawsuits were filed against Watson, with allegations that followed the same pattern of behavior.
Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for the Harris County district attorney, issued this statement: “It would be inappropriate for the District Attorney’s office to comment on a civil lawsuit, and we refrain from publicly discussing allegations in any matter until, and if, a criminal charge is filed; we do this out of fairness to all.”
Hardin said in a statement his law firm has “strong evidence” showing one of the lawsuits alleging sexual assault is false and “calls into question the legitimacy of the other cases as well.”
Hardin added he believes “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.”
In his statement, Hardin said Buzbee had “orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to publicize 14 ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuits,” and the lawyer had also refused Hardin’s requests “to confidentially provide the names of the plaintiffs so we can fully investigate their claims” against Watson.
Later that day, two more lawsuits were filed against Watson, bringing the total to 16.
Regarding the case that was singled out by Hardin in his statement, Watson’s attorney released a signed affidavit from Watson’s marketing manager, Bryan Burney. In that declaration, Burney said he spoke with an individual he believes is the plaintiff in the third case filed by Buzbee.
“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,” the statement said.
Buzbee said Watson and Burney “repeatedly insisted that Jane Doe sign” a non-disclosure agreement, and she refused to do so.
Three new lawsuits were filed, including one that claimed Watson was deleting Instagram messages and contacting the women “who formally provided him massages, in an attempt to settle” those cases.
All three lawsuits accuse Watson of sexually assaulting women during massage sessions by “purposely” touching them with his penis, and state his “behavior is part of a disturbing pattern.”
The third lawsuit also included the accusation Watson was deleting the Instagram messages and contacting the plaintiffs “as a result of the repeated lawsuits against him.”
“Plaintiffs have not brought these cases for money or attention; instead, plaintiffs seek a change in behavior with regard to Watson, and a change of culture in the NFL,” said the lawsuit, filed by Buzbee.
The three new lawsuits bring the total filed against Watson to 19.
Hardin said in a statement Watson had not deleted any Instagram messages over the past two weeks and “categorically” denied 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.”
Later that day, Sports Illustrated published an account from a Houston massage therapist who said Watson acted inappropriately when she massaged him.
The woman has not filed a lawsuit against Watson, but told SI she was speaking out because she wants “a genuine apology” from Watson, “for us and our community, for putting us in these situations where we don’t know what to do.”
The woman, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told SI that while “Watson did not touch her, nor did he force her into conducting any sexual acts,” he did “engage in behavior that was both inappropriate and unlike any other interaction she’s had with any of her more than 1,000 clients.”
The alleged incident described in the SI report took place in the fall of 2019; in the 19 lawsuits filed against Watson, the earliest incident took place in 2020.
Early in the day, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said the union would also monitor the situation.
“We monitor these cases, and if it results in an investigation by the league with respect to the personal conduct policy, we’ll become involved in that,” Smith said during an interview on ESPN’s Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin. “Other than that — you know historically I don’t comment on open cases — but we are continuing to monitor it as it might impact this young man and the personal conduct policy.”
Two more lawsuits alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior were filed against Watson on that evening, including one that states the quarterback has “unsent” messages on Instagram and has contacted the women who had previously massaged him “through intermediaries.”
That statement in the lawsuit clarifies the contents of a lawsuit filed by Buzbee on March 28 that said Watson was deleting Instagram messages and contacting the women “who formally provided him massages, in an attempt to settle” those cases.
One of the lawsuits alleges that Watson “made obscene sexual gestures,” and the second says over the course of four sessions, Watson “purposely” exposed himself to the massage therapist and touched her with his penis and ultimately groped her, coerced her into oral sex and ejaculated on her.
In addition to the two new lawsuits, Buzbee posted on Instagram to say he now didn’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.” Earlier, Buzbee said he would submit affidavits and evidence from several women to the Houston PD and the Houston district attorney.
“My legal opponent, Mr. Hardin, has a son who is on … the exclusive Command Staff of HPD,” Buzbee posted on Instagram. “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.”
On this day, Texans general manager Nick Caserio became the first member of the organization to comment on Watson’s legal situation.
“We’re certainly cognizant and aware,” Caserio told the Texans All Access podcast. “We made a statement at the beginning about where the organization stood. I would say it’s a legal situation, it’s a legal process, so we’re certainly respectful of that.
“We certainly take them very seriously. The allegations, what’s been discussed, are certainly troubling. And organizationally that’s not something that we can condone, that we condone, those types of actions.”
Hardin released statements from 18 women saying they have worked with the Texans quarterback and he “never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage.” Watson’s attorney said the statements were voluntary and from women who have collectively “worked with Deshaun more than 130 times over the past five years.”
A lawsuit was filed against Watson, alleging he assaulted a licensed aesthetician “by touching her with his penis and exposing himself.” The plaintiff alleges Watson “grabbed” her buttocks during a massage while his “penis was erect … and completely exposed.”
The lawsuit alleges Watson told the massage therapist she had to sign a non-disclosure agreement before he would pay her for the massage.
This was the 22nd civil lawsuit filed against Watson.
The same day, the Houston Police Department said in a statement it had launched an investigation of Watson after a complainant filed a report.
“As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process,” the department said in a statement. It did not specify what Watson is being accused of in the complaint.
Hardin said in a statement later that day he and Watson will “fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
“We welcome this long overdue development,” Hardin said. “Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
The NFL said in a statement it is “continuing to monitor all developments” pertaining to the league’s personal conduct policy.
In a letter to season-ticket holders sent annually in the spring, the McNair family, who owns and runs the Texans, addressed the civil lawsuits and a complaint filed with the Houston Police Department against Watson, saying, “We want to assure you that we take these allegations very seriously.
“While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault,” the letter reads. “Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior.”
Buzbee held a news conference during which two of the plaintiffs were identified for the first time. Ashley Solis, who Buzbee said was the first massage therapist to file a lawsuit against Watson on March 16, spoke that day. Lauren Baxley wrote a letter to Watson that was read by Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, a lawyer who works at Buzbee’s firm.
“I got into massage therapy to heal people,” Solis said. “To heal their minds and bodies. To bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that. He took that away from me, he tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride. … I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I’m in counseling as a result of Deshaun Watson’s actions. I hope he knows how much pain he’s inflicted on me emotionally and physically. And I hope he knows how much pain he’s inflicted on these other survivors.
“People say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false. I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman.”
Buzbee also said one of the women who gave one of the statements in support of Watson also sent a direct message concerning the quarterback, saying she stopped working with him because she was “hearing too much stuff about him messing with other people.”
“That’s two different stories,” Buzbee said. “Now, am I suggesting that the 18 women had bad experiences? I don’t know. Am I suggesting there’s a reason they came forward? I don’t know. That’s a question for you to ask. But what I do know is that what was said publicly by this one individual and what was said privately were two completely different things.”
Buzbee also said his firm has turned away five other women who approached it with cases against Watson, because the firm couldn’t substantiate their claims.
According to Buzbee, Solis and at least one other of his clients have provided statements to the police. The Houston PD said in a statement it has launched an investigation of Watson after a complainant filed a report.
In response to that news conference, Hardin’s law firm said in a statement that Buzbee’s firm “sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit.”
The statement also included an email exchange between the Buzbee Law Firm and Gaffield. The communications were dated between Feb. 3 and Feb. 19, 2021.
“My email exchanges with Mr. Buzbee and Ms. Brandfield-Harvey were very clear,” Gaffield said in a written statement. “We did not think that the facts showed that Deshaun did anything wrong with their client. We believed then — and fully believe now — that Deshaun learned a lesson about putting himself in this type of situation by interacting with people he does not know.
“As the emails show, we were willing to continue discussions on Deshaun’s behalf to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and a public spectacle. But Mr. Buzbee informed us that he was unwilling to do so. We expect that this matter will be resolved in court.”
In a statement later that day, McCarthy called the allegations against Watson “deeply disturbing,” noting, “we take these issues very seriously.”
Nike announced it had suspended its endorsement deal with Watson and sources told ESPN that Beats by Dre was ending its sponsorship of Watson. As the day went on, more brands disassociated themselves with Watson.
Houston-based Reliant Energy said in a statement its relationship with Watson was scheduled to end this spring and the company has “no plans for future engagements or contracts with him,” and supermarket chain H-E-B said in a statement “there are no plans for future engagement” after its deal with Watson expired following the 2020 season.
Hardin filed a motion for an emergency hearing for each lawsuit, asking a judge to rule Buzbee has to identify the women who filed lawsuits under the pseudonym Jane Doe.
The motion was granted by the Harris County District Court, with two hearings scheduled for April 9.
At an emergency hearing, a Harris County judge ruled that one of the plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against Watson must identify herself by refiling her lawsuit with her name attached.
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