HOUSTON — In the latest lawsuit filed against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson by attorney Tony Buzbee in Harris County, the three-time Pro Bowl passer is alleged to have engaged in a “disturbing pattern” of inappropriate behavior.
Deshaun Watson faces 24th lawsuit
The 24th lawsuit, filed by Buzbee on behalf of massage therapist Katy Williams, also references Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, making a “happy endings” comment last Friday during a Houston radio station interview.
“Deshaun Watson’s attorney has called every woman suing Watson a liar,” the lawsuit stated. “Watson’s lawyer claims that ‘happy endings’ are common in massage therapy and, short of paying extra for it, such conduct is not a crime. Watson’s lawyer goes on to say that making a massage therapist ‘uncomfortable’ due to the type of conduct described herein is not a crime.
“The public comments made by Watson’s defense team evidence a belief system that explains Watson’s conduct: when Watson contacts a random massage therapist on Instagram for a massage, unbeknownst to the therapist, Watson is wanting more than a massage – his ‘thing’ is using his celebrity to make a massage into something more.
“The woman do not learn about Watson’s proclivities until it is too late. What Plaintiff alleges herein is disgusting and abhorrent conduct, a habit and custom of conduct, that is actionable under the laws of the state of Texas. Despite Watson’s legal team’s efforts to normalize such conduct, such conduct is not normal and is legally actionable.”
Rusty Hardin issues statement
Hardin issued a statement Friday night about his comments. He has previously acknowledged that Watson had consensual sex with three of the plaintiffs. Watson was not charged by two Texas grand juries. No settlement is anticipated, and the cases are not expected to go to trial until next year. The NFL is expected to recommend whether Watson will be punished under the personal conduct policy this summer.
“Deshaun Watson did nothing wrong,” Hardin stated. “And as two grand juries have made clear, Deshaun did nothing illegal. Deshaun has always acknowledged consensual sexual activity with three of the plaintiff massage therapists after massages. And Deshaun has repeatedly sworn under oath that he did not force any of his accusers to have sexual contact.
“On a Houston radio show interview today, I mentioned that a massage that has a ‘happy ending’ is not illegal, meaning it is not illegal for someone to have consensual sex with a therapist after a massage unless the sex is for pay. Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex. I was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case. I have reiterated to others it’s not ok to do anything that a woman does not agree to do.
“These women have alleged assault in their pleadings. I was speaking in a hypothetical situation. If there is a consensual sexual encounter after a massage, that is not a crime nor the basis for a civil lawsuit. I was not talking about what Deshaun did or did not do or expected or did not expect”
What the lawsuit alleges
The lawsuit alleges that Watson told the plaintiff he wanted to support a black-owned business and arranged a massage on Aug. 5, 2020, and told her that he wanted her to be comfortable and didn’t need to wear her scrubs.
The lawsuit said that there were two massage sessions.
In the second massage session on Aug. 9, 2020, the plaintiff alleged that Watson didn’t want to use the standard draping and requested to be covered by only a small towel and requested she work on his inner thighs. The plaintiff said she “became very uncomfortable.”
The lawsuit alleges graphic sexual behavior, including masturbation by the NFL player in her presence and onto her. The lawsuit states that Watson did not apologize or explain himself and paid the plaintiff $150, leaving her “humiliated and traumatized.”
23rd lawsuit filed last week
The 23rd lawsuit, filed last week in Harris County by Buzbee on behalf of Nia Smith, alleged that Watson touched the woman between her legs and made requests for sex. The lawsuit stated that Watson refused to cover himself, “became aggressive,” and “repeatedly requested that Plaintiff have sex with him.”
The lawsuit added that the plaintiff quit her job at New U. Salon Spa after complaining about Watson’s alleged misconduct to the owner of the spa, Dionne Louis.
Per the lawsuit, the woman decided to file her lawsuit after watching HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel” last week.
“In that piece, plaintiff was struck by the courage of the victims willing to step forward and speak and was extremely displeased by Watson and his legal team’s mistreatment and revictimizations of the plaintiffs,” the lawsuit stated. “But it was Watson himself claiming that even now he has ‘no regrets’ and has done nothing wrong that solidified her resolve. She brings this case seeking minimum compensation, but to obtain a court finding that Watson’s conduct was wrong.”
Two Texas grand juries declined to charge Watson, 26, with any crimes last year and he is no longer being investigated by law enforcement authorities. He may still face punishment from the NFL this year under its personal conduct policy.
“Today we filed suit for the 23rd plaintiff in this litigation,” Buzbee said in a statement. “Other cases may come. The Watson defense team has vilified these women and this cause. Shame on them! We look forward to trying this case in court.”
Hours after Buzbee’s statement, Hardin, Watson’s attorney, responded and stated that Watson “vehemently” denies the allegations and said that the plaintiff has a vendetta against the NFL player and “jealously and angrily” posted Watson’s personal information on social media last year.
“Deshaun Watson vehemently denies the allegations, just as he has since she first discussed them with members of our firm in March of last year. She repeated the allegations on social media in August and he denied them then. The only thing new about her contentions is the embellishment making them more extreme than prior versions. Deshaun’s denial remains the same.
“The two highly respected lawyers from our firm, Letitia Quinones and Rachel Lewis, also vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved in the very cordial meeting at Vic and Anthony’s (Mr. Buzbee and the plaintiff are not even right about where the meeting was, much less what was said). They met her to see if she was one of Mr. Buzbee’s then still anonymous plaintiffs. At that time Mr. Buzbee refused to identify his clients. The suggestion that either of these two accomplished lawyers would have said “us black women must stick together” is absurd. The interview was so congenial, she joined the lawyers for dinner afterwards.
“We are aware that more than a year ago she had other lawyers representing her and they ultimately terminated the representation. This plaintiff has long had a vendetta against Deshaun since she jealously and angrily published Deshaun’s personal data on social media in November 2020. In filing her lawsuit now she was obviously not influenced by recent developments. We are not surprised Mr. Buzbee was willing to say just about anything to get more publicity. He knows the NFL continues to investigate these cases, and this is a transparent attempt to further punish the man he sees as a potential payday.”
Watson’s accusers call his contract ‘a big screw you’
During a segment on HBO’s Real Sports that recently aired, two women took issue with Watson receiving a fully guaranteed $230 million contract from the Browns after being traded from the Houston Texans.
“It’s just like a big ‘screw you,’” Ashley Solis said during an interview with HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel conducted by reporter Soledad O’Brien. “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”
Solis, the first accuser against Watson, also told HBO she felt threatened by Watson following their massage session.
“He just said, ‘I know you have a career to protect,’” Solis said. “‘And I know you don’t want anyone messing with it just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.’ To me, that’s when I got really scared. That sounded like a threat to me.”
Another accuser, Kyla Hayes, characterized the contract as “sick,” adding, “I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”
Solis and Hayes both reiterated the accusations they’ve made in previous interviews and in court filings in Harris County District Court as they told their version of what transpired in the massage therapy sessions.
Solis told HBO, “As I’m working, he deliberately grabs himself and put his penis on my hand. And I pulled my hand away instantly, and I started crying. And I told him that I was done. I don’t wanna do this anymore.’’
Hayes said that Watson “wanted me to kinda make a V motion in his pelvic area. So go across his stomach to his thighs, back to his stomach. I just kept massaging and did what he asked until his penis kept touching me repeatedly as I did it. He was moving his penis back and forth as my hands moved as well. At some point, he did ejaculate. That was mortifying and embarrassing and disgusting.’’
Multiple sources, including law enforcement officials, have said that there is no audio, video, or DNA evidence, in this case.
Watson did not comment to HBO, with Hardin, citing the NFL’s ongoing investigation as the reason why. Watson has been participating in the Browns’ organized team activities and hosted several teammates on a team-bonding trip to The Bahamas last week.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing publicly and through Hardin.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at the league meetings that the investigation is nearing its end but offered no timetable on when a decision on potential discipline would be rendered.
Hardin: Watson ‘never did anything inappropriate with these women’
Hardin released a video statement to Pro Football Network and other outlets in advance of the HBO program.
In his statement, Hardin repeatedly denied that Watson had forced any of the massage therapists to have sexual relations. He acknowledged, as he did last year at the outset of the case, that Watson had consensual sexual relations with three of the complainants.
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) May 25, 2022
“We just did a deposition yesterday and her deposition, her case, was the third one filed and the first one to allege force, and the world went wild over it,” Hardin said. “Deshaun’s reputation was horrible. For 30 days, we didn’t even know who she was because they were filed anonymously. And then when we get to her deposition yesterday, she admitted under oath, there was no force. He used no force against her. And this is the one they gave the biggest scream when this first started. Nobody really wanted to deal much with the fact that two different grand juries found there were no criminal events. The grand jury decides probable cause. Is there any basis for believing there was a crime committed, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor? And both of those grand juries found no probable cause to believe any crime at all was committed.
“That should have been given great sway because originally there were allegations, he used force against these women. Turns out only three of the 22 lawsuits involve any allegation of force and then when subjected to investigation by law enforcement, and presentation toa grand jury, it was found no force was used. There was no indication of a crime involving any type of force. As we’ve said, as Deshaun has insisted under oath, each of those three occasions were consensual and instituted by the women. But in the other … 19 cases there was no sexual activity. And Deshaun has already given nine depositions – 11 now – and sworn under oath that there was no sexual activity except those three incidents, and they were consensual.”
Hardin acknowledged in his statement that sexual misconduct is a large problem in society. He emphasized that his client has been wrongfully accused.
“We have a tremendous social problem in this area, I agree, but the solution is not to assume every allegation is true,” Hardin said. “Each one ought to be looked at separately and judged on its own merits. And if that happens, we’re comfortable that Deshaun has been telling the truth all along. He never did anything inappropriate with these women and certainly he never harmed them and never did anything that was not consensual.”
Another attorney representing Watson, Leah Graham, spoke with HBO and said the NFL player “has no regrets because he did nothing wrong.”
“He did nothing wrong in these massages,” Graham said. “And although, to your first question, ‘How can he be innocent?’ I think the real question is, ‘What evidence is there of any guilt?’”
Graham was asked by HBO to explain how Watson “unintentionally ending up having sex with people who are giving you professional massages?”
Graham replied, “Well, in every massage, I will tell you he did go, intending just for a professional massage, and only those three instances where sexual conduct occurred — consensual sexual activity — it occurred after the massage session had ended. And Mr. Watson has testified and is insistent that that sexual activity was initiated by the plaintiff in every single instance. As he testified in his depositions last week, yes, he has no regrets because he did nothing wrong. He did nothing wrong in these massages.”
Plaintiffs’ lawyer issued statement ahead of HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ program
Buzbee issued a statement in advance of the program.
“As was the case with speaking with law enforcement and the NFL, we left the decision whether to speak publicly up to the clients themselves,’’ Buzbee wrote. “Two chose to do so. These women are the most brave and courageous I’ve ever met. This firm is extremely proud to represent them. During the filming process I was impressed with HBO’s diligence and insistence on fairness. Despite our requests, HBO refused to provide us beforehand the questions they intended to ask.
“And, I can tell you, hard questions were in fact asked — not only to our clients but to me as well. This firm has been trying and winning civil cases for twenty-five years; we are extremely confident in these cases. As each witness testifies in the pre-trial discovery process, the evidence against Deshaun Watson continues to mount. The walls, as they say, are closing in. We look forward to trying these cases in court as soon as practicable. We are very confident that, in the end, justice will be done.”
Graham and Hardin have both alleged that Buzbee took the cases seeking publicity.
“It’s 22 women,’’ Graham said. “It’s one lawyer. There’s only one lawyer who was willing to take these cases. And as we know from Ashley Solis’ deposition, Mr. Buzbee was not the first, probably not the second or third lawyer she went to, but he was the only one to take her case. Why? Not because it had merit, but because he would use these cases to increase his social media following and quite frankly to get on shows like this one.’’