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sexual harassment

Buzbee blames the NFL for Watson’s short suspension

Surely you expected that Tony Buzbee would have something to say about all this.

For the first woman to sue former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson —and nearly all those who followed suit — the legal process is over.

They settled their cases alleging sexual assault and harassment. An NFL-hired arbitrator gave the football player a six-week suspension. And two grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges.

Through it all, the NFL and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg failed those women, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said Thursday.

“We are here today with a message to the NFL,” the lawyer said during a news conference. “Every victim of sexual assault is watching (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone independent, we don’t buy it.”

“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”

[…]

Despite the disappointing decision with the District Attorney’s Office and the league, [Ashley] Solis said she finally feels like she has power.

She described the past two-and-a-half years as “emotionally and mentally tasking.” As the first person to file a lawsuit and the first to speak publicly, she received countless threats from Watson fans. That vitriol sent her into a depression, but letters she received from numerous victims rejuvenated her, she said.

Solis learned that victims have the ability to speak up. They can make changes happen, she said.

“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status, and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” she said. “That’s exactly what I am – the wrong one.”

Solis was one of 10 women to speak with NFL investigators, Buzbee said. He added that he would’ve made more of his clients available, but he said the NFL “wasn’t really interested in talking to them.”

“It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, ‘What the devil is going on?'” Buzbee said.

Arbitrator Sue L. Robinson made note of the NFL’s failure to interview all 24 women in her 16-page report, distancing her decision by saying, “My credibility determinations are based largely on the credibility of the NFL investigators.”

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy disputed Buzbee’s claims. He provided a statement that said the league interviewed 49 total people and attempted to interview all of the 24 women who filed suit but the remaining 12 “were not made available by their attorney or did not feel comfortable being interviewed.”

The investigation’s outcome made some of the victims to feel invisible, or as if they had been slapped, Buzbee said.

See here for the previous update. Goodell has already delegated the appeal to someone else, as allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. I think that was the correct thing for him to do, but I can see how Buzbee sees it differently. As for the dispute over how many of the women were available to talk with the NFL as part of the process, I’ll wait and see if there’s evidence to support one side’s claims or the other’s.

In the meantime, now we wait on the appeal.

The NFL Players Association announced Friday that it replied to the NFL’s appeal of Deshaun Watson’s six-game suspension by NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

“We have filed our reply brief to the NFL’s appeal regarding the Deshaun Watson matter,’’ the NFLPA said in a statement posted on Twitter.

The union, which had two business days to reply, had no further comment.

The matter is now in the hands of appeals officer Peter C. Harvey, the former New Jersey attorney general who was appointed Thursday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There’s no set timeframe for a decision, but it must be processed on an expedited basis. The two sides — the NFL and NFLPA — can also try to negotiate a settlement before the ruling.

But the NFLPA is still poised to sue in federal court, possibly pending the outcome of the appeal.

“If the new arbitrator increases Watson’s punishment – once again this sets up a legal battle between the union and league challenging the fairness of the penalties and (Roger) Goodell’s authority to penalize the players for their alleged roles,’’ said attorney Daniel Moskowitz, a sports law litigator in Dallas, who has represented several NFL players in NFL investigations involving the personal conduct policy, violation of league substance abuse and other code of conduct policies.

The NFLPA and Watson’s legal team can also file before the decision by Harvey, who helped develop and implement the league’s personal conduct policy.

So we wait. I don’t think this will take very long for the simple reason that it makes sense for there to be a resolution, at least as far as this process goes, before the season begins. After that, who knows. Sean Pendergast has more.

Further thoughts on the Deshaun Watson suspension

Just a few things I’ve read, to try to understand what happened here. Make of them what you will. Note that I drafted this before the news of the NFL’s appeal.

Pro Football Talk:

How does Watson, who faced 24 lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, get suspended only six games when Cardinal receiver DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for trace amounts of a PED he claims he didn’t know he ingested and Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley was suspended a whole season for making $1,500 in parlay wagers?

On the surface, the answer is easy. These three players were suspended under three completely different policies: Personal Conduct, PED, and gambling.

There’s a more nuanced explanation. The PED policies and gambling policies go directly to the integrity of the game, whether by cheating in it or betting on it. The Personal Conduct Policy relates to off-duty behavior, conduct that has no connection to the league’s core business interests.

Not sure how much that nuance helps, but I suppose it’s worth keeping those distinctions in mind, if only to get the underlying facts straight.

CBS Sports:

There’s a chance that the length of the suspension could still change and that’s because the NFL is allowed to appeal the decision (Watson’s camp could also appeal the decision, but the NFLPA previously announced on Sunday that no appeal would be coming from that end).

If the NFL decides to appeal, it will create a new layer of drama and that’s because the appeal would be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates. As of Monday afternoon though, the league had yet to make a decision about a possible appeal.

“We appreciate Judge Robinson’s diligence and professionalism throughout this process,” the NFL said in a statement. “Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL or the NFLPA on behalf of Watson may appeal the decision within three days. In light of her findings, the league is reviewing Judge Robinson’s imposition of a six-game suspension and will make a determination on next steps.”

[…]

Although the new collective bargaining agreement took away Goodell’s power to hand out a punishment, he didn’t really lose very much power since he’s the one who oversees the appeal process.

Here’s the pertinent language in the CBA:

“The Disciplinary Officer’s disciplinary determination will be final and binding subject only to the right of either party to appeal to the Commissioner. The appeal shall be in writing within three business days of the Disciplinary Officer’s decision, and any response to the appeal shall be filed in writing within two business days thereafter. The appeal shall be limited to arguments why, based on the evidentiary record below, the amount of discipline, if any, should be modified. The Commissioner or his designee will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute and will be binding upon the player(s), Club(s) and the parties to this Agreement.”

Based on the language in the CBA, the NFL now has three days to file an appeal in writing. Once the appeal is filed, Goodell (or his designee) will have two days to respond to it.

If the NFL doesn’t appeal, then the case is over and Watson will serve a six-game suspension. It’s possible the league will go this route because it doesn’t want to undermine Robinson’s decision.

In my initial reaction, I said that I’d change “possible” to “highly likely”, and that I could not see the NFL stirring this up when they have a chance to let it go and get on with their business. Clearly, I was wrong about that.

Slate:

Why did Watson skate? It isn’t because Goodell doesn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Even if only for image maintenance, the NFL wanted a bigger chunk of games. But that does not let the NFL off the hook. It also does not mean all of the fault with the short suspension lies with the arbitrator, whom both management and labor asked to resolve the length of the suspension. At core, Watson will soon be under center for the Browns because the NFL spent years laying two sets of tracks that led straight to this decision and will soon lead the league beyond it. One was a disciplinary system that did not come down hard on violence against women for many years, and which complicated the NFL’s efforts to win a workplace dispute with Watson when it became clear that one of the best, most famous players in the NFL deserved a long, long break away from the game. The other was cultural. The NFL and its giant media industry cultivated an environment where any player as good as Watson can be two things at once—a hero whom fans adore and a commodity that teams crave—and where any inconveniences the real world might impose on those roles are just those: inconveniences. Watson did not get a light punishment because the NFL doesn’t care. He got one because the NFL is a universe where “caring” is not the point.

The contradictory thing about Robinson’s report is that she seems to generally agree with the NFL that Watson behaved horrendously toward his accusers. “Mr. Watson’s pattern of conduct is more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL,” she writes at one point. She writes that “it is difficult to give weight” to Watson’s wholesale denial not just of any criminal conduct, but of ever having so much as gotten an erection during one of the massages in question. She finds that by the NFL’s definition of sexual assault in its code of conduct, which is “unwanted sexual contact with another person,” Watson committed sexual assault. But Robinson calls Watson’s acts “non-violent sexual assault.” It is a mind-bending phrase. Can any sort of sexual assault be “non-violent”? Is there a way to breach consent and not be violent? Of course not. It is an inherently violent act, whether it involves blood and bruises or not. But to read Robinson’s decision, the NFL’s past laxness toward overt violence made it difficult for her to square the league’s desired punishment of Watson as a matter of workplace policy. “By ignoring past decisions because none involve ‘similar’ conduct, however, the NFL is not just equating violent conduct with non-violent conduct, but has elevated the importance of the latter without any substantial evidence to support its position,” Robinson says. The NFL decided that it cared about this player violating women, but because it hadn’t acted accordingly in the past, it couldn’t impose the punishment it wanted.

My mind is still trying to unbend from that one.

ESPN:

Basically, Robinson is saying something akin to, You want to argue that this behavior deserves a more severe penalty, fine. Maybe you’re right. But that’s not in your policy, and you can’t just make policy to support one specific case as it’s going on. If the league wants to do what it did post-Rice and adjust its policy to account for the type of behavior Watson is herein found guilty of, it should do that — then everyone would know.

Interesting argument, for sure, but it answers a lot of the questions about the length of the suspension vis-à-vis some others in the past. She goes on to write, “It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”

Remember, Robinson first decided she was not starting from a six-game baseline but from one of three games or fewer, based on precedent set by other nonviolent sexual assault cases. As “aggravating factors” (that is, reasons to increase the suspension), she cites Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse and his tardy notice to the NFL of the first-filed lawsuit.” As “mitigating factors” (that is, reasons to go easier on him), she cites “he is a first-time offender and had an excellent reputation in his community prior to these events. He cooperated and has paid restitution.”

Very interestingly, she also notes the league could have placed Watson on the commissioner’s exempt list last year and chose not to, which she appears to think means the league didn’t consider his behavior worthy of such punishment until it saw the public reaction to it. She makes that clear in her conclusion when she writes, “The NFL may be a ‘forward-facing’ organization, but it is not necessarily a forward-looking one. Just as the NFL responded to violent conduct after a public outcry, so it seems the NFL is responding to yet another public outcry about Mr. Watson’s conduct.”

Robinson writes that she settled on six games because it is the largest suspension ever imposed for nonviolent sexual conduct but that Watson’s behavior is more egregious than the behavior that led to previous suspensions for nonviolent sexual conduct.

If the NFL had taken domestic violence seriously from the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are now.

The Ringer:

The ruling fails to grapple with the serial nature of Watson’s actions, which is essential to the nature of what he did. Some of the women who said Watson harassed or abused them refused to work with him again. Some considered changing careers entirely. And after each woman made clear that Watson’s advances were unwanted and wrong, Watson sought out more women.

Twenty-seven women, six games. Robinson was looking at only four of the cases—was each of those four women worth 1.5 games? If Robinson had ruled on all 27 women who came forward with their accounts of Watson’s misconduct, would he be suspended for 40.5 games? Or perhaps it’s an unsolvable equation, because the NFL’s personal conduct policy left no room for the gray areas of sexual violence or the possibility of multiple accusers.

Robinson’s ruling is based on two guiding principles, both of which are immensely flawed. On the one hand, the ruling emphasizes that the six-game suspension is a matter of precedent based on the league’s previous penalties related to sexual misconduct. This is a mistake. No previous player has been named in so many accounts by so many women. I don’t know the correct punishment for 27 cases, or whether it’s different from the amount that would be correct for 10 or 50 or 75. But how can anybody appeal to precedent when the misconduct itself is so clearly unprecedented? There’s no number that would have felt right, but it’s certainly wrong for the number to be determined by a technicality that doesn’t have anything to do with Watson’s case or the women affected.

[…]

In the end, there’s one easy way to tell that this punishment was too light: by looking at Watson, who spent decision day practicing with the Browns and signing autographs for a mob of fans at training camp. Watson has avoided criminal charges and settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits against him. He has not even remotely expressed public contrition for his actions. At this point, it would be possible for him to say some form of “I’m sorry,” or to speak out against sexual violence without admitting personal guilt. He has chosen not to, and he probably never will. (Robinson specifically mentioned Watson’s “lack of expressed remorse” as a factor in her decision, though clearly it didn’t weigh that heavily.)

I don’t have anything insightful to add to that.

Defector:

You do not need to have a PhD in workplace procedures to gather that a policy crafted in response to a public relations crisis will not work. In this case, the NFL created its anti-violence policy in the late 1990s after future Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon was arrested for intimate-partner violence, for which he was found not guilty, followed by exposé after exposé from sports reporters about violence by players toward women, all amid the 1990s wave of tough-on-crime legislation. Like many of the pro-police, pro-prison policies of that era, the NFL’s plan to threaten its players into compliance with vague threats of “suspension” failed, has continued to fail, and probably will always fail because bad policy begets bad policy, no matter how many times you rework it, reframe it, or even renegotiate it. The personal conduct policy has been a failure from the moment it was created, (though this has not stopped other major North American sports leagues from copying it for the sake of public relations). Left to its own devices, the NFL will never get this right.

All the NFL can do is try to find a different person to blame, a new figure onto which it can foist this odious burden of reminding us all that a good enough player will always find a way back onto the field, with just their bank account a little lighter. On Monday, that person was retired judge Sue L. Robinson, who issued her decision to suspend Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson for six games after two dozen women sued Watson in civil court, all describing various levels of sexual misconduct by him during massage therapy appointments that included finding ways to touch them with his penis and ejaculating on them. Depending on who delivers your sports news, this was seen as either a humiliation for the NFL or great news for Watson’s new team, the Cleveland Browns. But what those quick takes never quite address is why the NFL and pro sports, time and time again, seem utterly clueless about what to do when a player is accused of violence.

[…]

Robinson ended her decision with the equivalent of a legal tongue-lashing for the NFL, essentially telling them that significant changes to how it handles player discipline must be collectively bargained. (“It is inherently unfair to identify conduct as prohibited only after the conduct has been committed, just as it is inherently unjust to change the penalties for such conduct after the fact.”) You could say the NFL has a precedent problem. It’s a problem with a solution—negotiate better rules with players during the next round of collective bargaining. The players would, in return, request significant concessions from the league, and that would be fair because that’s how unions protect the rights of workers. The NFL could completely revamp its conduct policy to include community service, therapy, more preventative measures like education, or one of the many tools shown to actually work. It could even ask for harsher punishments, though it’s always worth remembering that that zero-tolerance policies don’t work and harsh punishment does not deter crime. In return, the league could give players truly guaranteed contracts, better healthcare, or agree to stop extending the regular season. All of this would be fair and likely would withstand the scrutiny of a retired judge, like Robinson, if the league chose to go this route.

The NFL will never do it.

Diana Moskovitz has been on the sports-and-crime-and-society beat for a long time, and she’s always a must read on these stories.

And here’s one more from The Ringer, post-appeal by the NFL.

The danger of a short suspension for Watson, then, is twofold: First, the media scrutiny if he were to return in mid-October would be intense. The NFL could weather that. But the second and biggest problem with a short suspension is that the Watson saga is still ongoing. It hasn’t even been two months since Vrentas’s most recent bombshell report: that Watson met with at least 66 women for massages within a 17-month period, and that the Houston Texans helped facilitate appointments and even provided Watson with nondisclosure agreements. One lawsuit is still active. Optically—and a lot of this is optics—it’s bad for the league to have Watson play in October. But even worse, the depth and scope of the story means that there may be more reporting to come, more shoes to drop. The outside investigations are not going away. The women involved in these cases are not going away simply because Watson might return to the field.

The NFL had to appeal for any number of reasons: First, Robinson’s report savages Watson’s behavior but makes clear that the six-game suspension was based on her belief that the NFL can’t make wholesale changes to its suspension lengths without prior notice to the players. The ruling came from an extremely narrow interpretation of the CBA, while the NFL, on the other hand, has a long history of changing rules quickly and without much notice. Also, there’s the matter of Watson not showing any remorse for his actions or admitting any wrongdoing—both factors that were cited to his detriment in Robinson’s report. In fact, reporters on Wednesday said that Watson’s camp still believed six games was too much.

If Watson’s suspension had stayed at six games, it would have kept a broken system broken. Not just because it would mean that virtually no personal conduct policy violation could extend beyond six games, but because it would reward a franchise that went all in on one of the most reckless moves in modern NFL history. It’s important to note here that a handful of teams would have loved to have Watson on their team, which is why the cost to trade for him this spring was so high in picks, and eventually money. The Browns were the ones who guaranteed him a fifth year. The Browns were the team that, just after a grand jury declined to indict Watson, gave him more leverage and the largest fully guaranteed deal in NFL history. Watson’s no-trade clause meant he could pick his destination, and Cleveland did everything it could to ensure it would be his choice.

I don’t know how much any of this helped me make sense of it all, but I feel like I needed to read all this. Hope it helped you a little.

NFL to appeal Watson suspension

Wow. I did not expect that.

The NFL on Wednesday appealed the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, seeking a tougher penalty for violating the league’s personal conduct policy in the wake of disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson’s ruling Monday.

In a statement, the league said it notified the NFL Players Association that it would appeal and then filed its brief Wednesday afternoon.

The league said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will determine who will hear the appeal. Under the CBA, Goodell has the option to consider the appeal himself or can appoint a designee to do so.

A source told ESPN that the league is appealing for an indefinite suspension that would be a minimum of one year (as it had previously sought), a monetary fine (which Watson was not levied initially by Robinson) and treatment that the star QB must undergo.

The union also had the right to appeal Robinson’s ruling, although it issued a statement Sunday night saying it would “stand by her decision” and not appeal, regardless of the result, and called on the league to agree to the same.

The NFLPA has until Friday to file a written response to the NFL’s appeal. Sources told ESPN’s Jeff Darlington on Wednesday that the NFLPA was preparing to sue the NFL in federal court if it appealed Robinson’s decision.

Once the NFLPA files its response, Goodell will decide to hear the appeal himself or appoint a designee — a source told Darlington on Wednesday that he’s yet to formalize a decision on who will do it — and that will be followed by a hearing date.

Any appeal must be limited to arguments from the evidentiary record from the three-day hearing before Robinson in late June and “without reference to evidence or testimony not previously considered.” It will be processed on an “expedited basis,” per the NFL’s personal conduct policy, although NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said there’s no timeline for Goodell or his designee to make a ruling.

Whenever the ruling is made, it will be final and binding to all parties.

[…]

In the days leading up to Robinson’s decision, the NFL and Watson’s side engaged in further settlement talks, sources told ESPN’s Dan Graziano, but neither side ever felt they were close to an agreement.

The most Watson’s side indicated it was willing to offer was a suspension in the range of six to eight games, according to sources. The best the league indicated it was willing to offer was a 12-game suspension and a significant fine — in the range of $8 million, sources said. Since no additional fine was levied, Watson is slated to miss six of his $57,500 game checks in 2022 for a total of $345,000 lost off his $1.035 million base salary.

See here for the background. I had assumed that the NFL would let this go, despite how poorly the ruling was received by the public, on the grounds that it was the least messy path and would get them on the road to putting it all behind them, which is usually what they want in any uncomfortable situation. I’m genuinely surprised by this. I figure it gets chaotic from here, between the promised lawsuit from the NFLPA and the decision Commissioner Goodell will have to make about who actually makes the appeal decision; it would probably be best if he picked a delegate for it. We are in uncharted waters, that much is for sure. CBS Sports has more.

Deshaun Watson suspended for six games

Feels light to me. And not just to me.

Months after trading six draft picks and committing a fully guaranteed $230 million to land Deshaun Watson from the Texans, the Browns have lost their star quarterback for the first six games of the 2022 season, CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson reports. Former federal judge Sue L. Robinson determined Monday that Watson should be suspended for six weeks after hearing testimony regarding the former Pro Bowler’s alleged off-field conduct. The QB this offseason faced civil lawsuits from 24 different women accusing him of sexual assault or misconduct.

Under this suspension, Watson will miss the following games to begin Cleveland’s season: at Panthers, vs. Jets, vs. Steelers, at Falcons, vs. Chargers, vs. Patriots. His first game back will be on Oct. 23 when the Browns visit the Ravens in Week 7.

Watson’s suspension arrives after multiple reports indicated the NFL would seek at least a full-season ban for the QB, who recently reached confidential settlements for 20 of the 24 lawsuits. It marks the league’s harshest discipline imposed on a QB since Michael Vick was banned indefinitely in 2009, before serving a nearly two-year prison sentence.

[…]

Watson has the power to appeal his suspension, but the NFLPA announced in a statement on the eve of this ruling that they would not. They also implored the NFL to also not appeal. Any appeal would ultimately be decided by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, seemingly making it unlikely he could significantly reduce his punishment. (Goodell previously reduced suspensions for Roethlisberger and Vick after in-person meetings, but Watson’s case carries a different magnitude.) The NFLPA could also sue the NFL over unfair discipline in light of certain team owners (i.e. the Commanders’ Daniel Snyder) allegedly receiving more lenient penalties over sexual assault accusations, but in the past, lawsuits over suspensions have only proven to delay, not significantly reduce or overturn, NFL discipline.

See here for the previous update. Here’s the Chron story with some more details (that CBS story was the first one I saw, literally minutes after the news broke).

The NFL, which had pushed for a suspension of at least one year and a fine of $5 million, has three days to appeal. If either side appealed, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or someone he designates will make the decision, per terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The union then could try to challenge that ruling in federal court.

Watson’s six-game suspension aligns with past punishments levied against former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who both were accused of sexual assault and were not criminally charged.

There were expectations Watson’s suspension could have been longer. The Watson suspension comes months after the MLB announced a two-year suspension for Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer, who faced sexual assault and domestic violence allegations that did not lead to criminal charges.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, Robinson’s decision says Watson’s “pattern of behavior was egregious,” but the behavior was “nonviolent sexual conduct.”

The league had pushed for an indefinite suspension of at least one year and a $5 million fine for the 26-year-old Watson during a three-day hearing before Robinson in June. The NFL Players’ Association argued Watson shouldn’t be punished at all because he was not convicted of any crime.

Robinson’s decision focused on information regarding five of the women who sued Watson, according to the Wall Street Journal. Watson, who has repeatedly denied wrongdoing, settled all but four of the lawsuits in June that had been levied against him. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said then those settlements would have no impact on the league’s disciplinary process.

I dunno, I feel like Watson’s alleged transgressions were worse, for their cumulative nature if nothing else. I thought that one year was the right amount of suspension, partly because I thought the Trevor Bauer comparison was more accurate, but I could have accepted something like ten or twelve games. I just don’t think six is enough, and I don’t think Deshaun Watson will come away from this thinking anything other than he was exonerated. A look at some other possible points of comparison bolster my opinion on that.

The suspension being limited to six games raises some eyebrows when compared the one-year suspension the league dealt Falcons receiver Calvin Ridley after he was found to have placed $1,500 worth of online parlay wagers when he was away from the team last season.

Six games also is the same punishment given to Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Watson’s former teammate in Houston, for having a trace amount of performance-enhancing drugs in his system.

The comparisons can go on and on, including former Saints coach Sean Payton being suspended for a year when his team allegedly had bounties on opponents’ heads and Payton sent an email to his coaches telling them to make sure you “get you ducks in a row” when talking to NFL investigators.

Comparisons of disciplinary actions can often be facile, as there can be multiple dimensions to each decision, but in this case I don’t think you’ll find many examples of people getting less time off for more egregious activity. It’s possible I could change my view over time, but right now I don’t feel like justice was served. More from the Chron and Sean Pendergast.

UPDATE: Per ESPN, Watson has now also settled all but one of the lawsuits pending against him; there had been four remaining, and three are now resolved. That includes the lawsuit filed by Ashley Solis. All in all, Monday was a pretty good day for Deshaun Watson.

Texans settle all the lawsuits from Watson accusers

Very efficient of them.

The Texans have settled claims with all 30 women who accused former quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault during massage appointments, according to the plaintiff’s attorney and the football team.

The settlement comes weeks after a civil lawsuit was filed on June 27 in Harris County alleging the team was warned about Watson’s inappropriate behavior during massage therapy sessions several months before the franchise’s responded publicly.

“Today all of the women who have made, or intended to make claims against the Houston Texans organization have resolved their claims,” plaintiffs’ attorney Tony Buzbee said in a news release, adding the terms of the settlements are confidential.

“I will have no further comment on the allegations or the Texans’ alleged role, other than to say that there is a marked contrast in the way in which the Texans addressed these allegations and the way in which Watson’s team has done so.”

[…]

The team’s ownership group — Janice, Hannah and Cal McNair — issued a statement Friday stating they were “shocked” when allegations first arose.

“Although our organization did not have any knowledge of Deshaun Watson’s alleged misconduct, we have intentionally chosen to resolve this matter amicably,” the statement said. “This is not an admission of any wrongdoing but instead a clear stand against any form of sexual assault and misconduct.

“We hope that today’s resolution will provide some form of closure to the parties involved, our fans and the Houston community at large. As an organization, we will now turn our focus to the future and doing what we can to ensure respect for all.”

The four remaining cases against Watson, Buzbee stated, will continue and, he hopes, tried in the spring.

See here for the background. I don’t know that I buy the team’s expression of shock over Watson’s alleged behavior, but that’s a moot point now. The team reached a settlement with all of the plaintiffs, which is indeed a thing Deshaun Watson could do; he’s most of the way there, but not all the way. We’ll see if anything changes before those remaining suits get to court. Sean Pendergast has more.

The four remaining lawsuits against Deshaun Watson

Whatever happens with the disciplinary hearing, the courts will still have a say in what happens to Deshaun Watson.

Four lawsuits alleging sexual assault by former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson during massage sessions continue in the courts after lawyers garnered settlements for 20 of the accusers, according to court records.

The cases were dismissed on June 29, about two weeks after attorney Tony Buzbee said that settlements with confidential amounts had been finalized in most of the lawsuits against Watson. Court records show that most of the plaintiffs dismissed their claims against Watson with prejudice — which prohibits the case from being refiled.

The accusers whose suits continue to progress through the courts include massage therapists Ashley Solis and Lauren Baxley, both of whom have come forward with their identifies. The Houston Chronicle typically does not identify victims of alleged sexual assault or harassment.

Solis, the first in March 2021 to sue Watson, accused the athlete of exposing his genitals and touching her inappropriately during a session in March 2020 at her home. Buzbee credited Solis’ initial complaint as being instrumental in encouraging more women to step forward with their accusations and the start of the NFL’s internal review into Watson’s behavior.

In Baxley’s case, the licensed sports massage therapist said Watson asked her for a massage in June 2020 and the two met for an appointment at a Houston spa. Watson exposed himself to Baxley, despite her repeated demands that he cover himself with a towel, according to court records.

See here and here for some background. The story contains details about the other two cases, with massage therapists who remain unnamed. I’m omitting those details here because they’re gross and upsetting, but go read the Chron story if you want to know them. I don’t know at this point what the court schedule looks like – most likely, we’re months out from anything of substance happening – and there is also the separate lawsuit against the Texans, which may be one of multiples, that adds another dimension to this story. Once the NFL discipline is settled, there may not be much news on this front for awhile, though perhaps I underestimate Tony Buzbee and his ability to draw attention when I say that. In any event, this is where we are right now.

Remaining plaintiffs against Deshaun Watson seek disciplinary hearing documents

No surprise.

The Fox 8 I-Team has learned attorneys representing four women suing Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson have filed a motion in court seeking documents from the NFL’s investigation of the 26-year-old, including transcripts from his recent disciplinary hearing.

Attys. Tony Buzbee and Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey also filed a motion seeking documents from the Houstonian Hotel, Club & Spa relating to Deshaun Watson, including surveillance video.

Both motions, notices of intention to take depositions by written questions, were filed Friday in Harris County District Court.

The motion filed seeking the NFL records is asking for all reports, investigation files, records, recorded interviews, written interviews, witness statements and communications as well as the transcripts from the June 28 hearing.

We reached out to the NFL and Watson’s attorneys to discuss the issue but have not yet heard back.

The disciplinary hearing for Watson was held last week and lasted three days. The NFL and Watson’s team both presented their side to a retired federal judge who will determine if Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

The hearing concluded Thursday. Both sides are now to submit briefs to the hearing officer. Officials are hoping she will release a decision before Browns training camp at the end of the month.

See here for the previous update. Obviously, Team Watson will oppose this, as it’s in their interest to keep as much of this under cover as possible. I’ll be curious to see if the NFL takes an official position on the matter and files a brief in response. They’d probably prefer to keep this more or less secret, but I don’t know what legal leg they’d have to stand on for that argument. It would also not be a great look for them, not that they’re all that sensitive about that. On the other hand, if they want to justify their request for a long suspension of Watson, this would add to their ledger. If you want to get a little conspiratorial, they could “suggest” to Team Watson that if Team Watson chose not to appeal the forthcoming suspension, they could be persuaded to file a brief in opposition to these documents’ release. Hey, it’s just a thought. We’ll see how it goes.

Now we wait for the judge in the Deshaun Watson disciplinary case

Gonna be a few weeks, most likely.

Another phase in the NFL’s disciplinary process against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson is complete, and another wait begins.

Watson’s hearing before former U.S. District judge Sue L. Robinson concluded on Thursday after three days.

Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, will determine whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline. She asked for post-hearing briefs from both Watson’s representatives and the NFL, and a final decision could take weeks.

Watson has been accused in civil lawsuits by 24 women of actions ranging from sexual assault to inappropriate behavior during massage sessions. He has reached a settlement in 20 of the cases.

The NFL has been pushing for an indefinite suspension of at least a year, and Watson’s team has argued there is no basis for punishment, two people with knowledge of the proceedings said to the Associated Press. ESPN reported that both sides engaged in attempts to reach a settlement while the hearing was still happening, but remain unable to agree.

[…]

A person familiar with the case told the Associated Press the league believes it presented evidence to warrant keeping Watson off the field this season. The person said the league’s investigation determined Watson committed multiple violations of the personal conduct policy and he would be required to undergo counseling before returning.

A person familiar with Watson’s defense told the Associated Press they expect a suspension. Asked what would be acceptable, the person said: “our goal is to get him back on the field this year.”

See here and here for some background. In previous stories, I’ve seen mention of the league wanting to have this process finished by the time players start reporting to training camps, which I believe would be July 27 for the Cleveland Browns. That sounds like a reasonable estimate for when we will know the decision.

NFL pushing for “indefinite” suspension of Deshaun Watson

That sounds like it counts as “at least one year”.

The NFL and Deshaun Watson’s legal team presented their arguments before a disciplinary officer for a second day Wednesday, with both sides holding firm as the hearing is scheduled to continue in Delaware on Thursday.

The league is insisting on an indefinite suspension and Watson’s side is arguing there’s no basis for a punishment that significant, two people in attendance told The Associated Press. Both people spoke on condition of anonymity because the hearing isn’t public.

Former U.S. District Judge Sue Robinson, who was jointly appointed by the league and the NFL Players’ Association, is tasked with determining whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and whether to impose discipline.

If either the union or league appeals Robinson’s decision, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his designee “will issue a written decision that will constitute full, final and complete disposition of the dispute,” per terms of Article 46 in the collective bargaining agreement.

See here for the previous entry. I guess I had expected the hearing to be just one day and that we’d have something definitive by now, but in retrospect that was unrealistic. I support a long suspension for Watson but am not sure yet how I feel about it being “indefinite”. It would depend on what the terms are for it ending, I suppose. We’ll see what the landscape looks like after the hearing is over and we can get reactions from the parties involved. What do you think?

Texans get sued for allegedly “turning a blind eye” to Deshaun Watson’s sexual harassment

We kind of knew this was coming.

Attorney Tony Buzbee has filed the first lawsuit against the Texans, saying the franchise enabled former quarterback Deshaun Watson, who last week settled 20 of 24 civil lawsuits filed by women who say he sexually assaulted and harassed them during massage therapy sessions.

The lawsuit says the owner of Genuine Touch, a massage therapy company that partnered with the Texans, reported Watson’s habit of “seeking out an unusually high number of massages from strangers on Instagram” to the Texans as early as June 2020, but the franchise “did nothing about it.”

Buzbee announced plans earlier in June to add the Texans as defendants in some of the lawsuits, and, last week, Buzbee said his focus shifted toward tagging the Texans onto the four remaining suits to argue that they facilitated Watson’s massage sessions at a local hotel, effectively enabling the massages away from team facilities, and provided non-disclosure agreements for those sessions.

“We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today,” the Texans said in a statement Monday. “Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization.”

Watson pursued at least 66 different massage therapy sessions despite having a full Texans training staff available to him, plus the services of Genuine Touch, a specified massage therapy entity, the lawsuit says. Genuine Touch provided massage therapy to Texans players at the team’s facilities, the lawsuit says. Sometimes the therapy was available seven days a week.

Watson “refused to have massages done at the Texans stadium and instead preferred to reach out to strangers on Instagram for massages,” the lawsuit says, which adds “the Texans were well aware of Watson’s preference.”

The lawsuit says individuals within the Texans organization “knew or should have known of Watson’s conduct” and “turned a blind eye” on Watson’s behavior and “protected and shielded” their franchise quarterback in an attempt to also protect the organization itself.

Watson used Texans resources for his massage therapy sessions, the lawsuit says, which include a room the Texans set up for Watson at the Houstonian Hotel, massage tables the franchise provided him for private massage sessions and the NDA that [Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who is the Texans’ director of security] provided him.

Roland Ramirez, Houston’s director of athletic training and physical therapy, told the Houston Police Department that he and Jack Easterby, the Texans’ executive vice president of football operations, helped secure Watson a membership at the Houstonian. Watson wasn’t old enough to secure a membership, Ramirez said, and Ramirez said he tagged his name to the membership as a third party.

Watson confirmed in his depositions that the Texans provided him the Houstonian membership he used to book rooms for massages, and the lawsuit notes the Houstonian has a physical therapy and massage staff that would’ve been an alternative to the women Watson pursued on Instagram.

The lawsuit says Ramirez received “several complaints” from the Houstonian’s general manager, Steve Fronterhouse, about “Watson and the number of women coming to Watson’s room there.”

Ramirez also told HPD that he found it “strange” when Watson asked him if he could borrow a massage table in August 2020.

A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story; there are also some allegations of gross behavior by Watson that I’ve skipped over. Beware if you want to read the whole thing. Tony Buzbee had talked about adding the Texans as a co-defendant in some of the lawsuits. This is a separate filing, which may partially be the result of many of those suits now being settled and thus unavailable as vehicles for action. Other topics covered in the story include the testimony from the HPD detective who thought Watson had committed crimes, and the huge number of massage therapists that Watson contacted during the time in question. There’s still a lot to be examined and discovered here, it would seem.

We’ll know later today how big a suspension the NFL will seek against Watson. I wonder now if perhaps the team will face some discipline as well. That would be up to the discretion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and I’d wager it would come down to how bad the Texans look in all this, and thus how bad they make the league look. It’s too early to say on that, but we know that the more we learn about this whole thing, the worse it looks, so let’s keep an eye on it. Defector and Sean Pendergast have more.

NFL to seek at least a one year suspension for Deshaun Watson

That would count as significant.

The NFL is poised to argue for an indefinite suspension of at least one year for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson at a hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday in front of the sport’s new disciplinary officer, according to a person familiar with the case.

The league will contend that Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct in two dozen civil lawsuits filed by women, violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and should be suspended without pay for at least the entirety of the 2022 season, that person said. Watson would have to apply for reinstatement under the league’s proposed penalty.

The NFL Players Association is expected to argue to former U.S. district judge Sue L. Robinson, the disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the NFLPA, for far less severe discipline against Watson, perhaps seeking no suspension at all.

Robinson will make the initial disciplinary ruling, under the revised personal conduct policy put in place with the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union completed in 2020.

If Robinson rules that Watson violated the conduct policy and imposes disciplinary measures, the league or the union could appeal the penalty to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person designated by him. If Robinson rules that Watson did not violate the policy, the case would be closed, with no possibility of an appeal.

Under the previous version of the conduct policy, Goodell was empowered to both make the initial disciplinary ruling and resolve any appeal. This is the first case under the new system.

It’s not clear how long the hearing will last or when Robinson will make an initial ruling. The NFL aims to have the entire case, including the resolution of any appeal, resolved before the opening of training camp, a person with knowledge of the matter previously said. The Browns, who completed a trade with the Houston Texans for Watson this offseason, have their first full practice involving veteran players scheduled for July 27.

See here for some background, which covers the reasons for why the NFL is asking for such a long suspension, and why the NFLPA disagrees so completely. I’m as pro-labor as you’ll find in these matters, but I’m fine with Watson being made to sit for a year or more – let’s not forget, he’ll mostly be paid for all that time thanks to the terms of the contract he signed with Cleveland – if only because of the magnitude of the offenses. If there’s some mitigating factor that we the public don’t currently know, then fine. Maybe the terms of the 20 settled lawsuits are available to Judge Robinson. Maybe the NFLPA’s argument that the NFL has let owners like Daniel Snyder totally skate on egregious sexual misconduct charges, as Defector’s Ray Ratto notes, will carry some weight. Whatever the case, we’ll know exactly what the NFL is asking for tomorrow, and we’ll have the judge’s answer in a couple of weeks. ESPN and Sean Pendergast, who notes that Watson appears to have been trying to negotiate a settlement with the NFL over his forthcoming sentence, have more.

Watson settles 20 of the lawsuits against him

Interesting.

A lawyer for several women who accused Deshaun Watson of inappropriate sexual behavior during massage sessions has said that 20 settlement agreements with the former Texans athlete have been reached.

Tony Buzbee, lawyer for women in 24 cases, said Tuesday that the accusers accepted confidential settlements in connection to the lawsuits, most of which were filed in 2021 and onward.

Buzbee cited Ashley Solis’ complaint as instrumental in the legal battle. He noted that her case is among those that have not reached a settlement.

“The truth is, without her courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL wouldn’t currently be contemplating discipline; there would be no examination of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly enable certain behavior; sports teams wouldn’t be reviewing their personnel screening processes; and this important story wouldn’t have dominated the sports headlines for more than a year,” Buzbee said.

The terms of the settlements were not disclosed. Records in the Harris County District Clerk’s Office did not immediately reflect the settlements.

It should be noted that Watson nearly came to a settlement agreement with all then-22 plaintiffs last November, as part of an effort to enable a trade to Miami. As such, the possibility of a settlement with most if not all of his accusers was always there. The timing is notable, though if this batch of agreements was finished in an attempt to mitigate the forthcoming suspension Watson will receive from the NFL, it seems that won’t matter. Per ESPN, an NFL spokesperson has said “today’s development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.” Which is to say, whatever discipline Watson was in line to get on Monday, he’s still in line to get it. But at least from his perspective he’s maybe reducing the risk of further exposure. Maybe. Sean Pendergast has more.

“Significant” suspension expected for Deshaun Watson

I should think so.

The NFL will argue that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson should receive a “significant” suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, multiple people familiar with the case said Friday.

The league “probably” will seek a suspension of one full season for Watson, a person on Watson’s side of the case said Friday. A person familiar with the league’s view of the case cautioned to be “careful” about specifying a precise length at this point for the suspension the NFL will seek. But that person also said: “Significant would be the proper term.”

[…]

Under a process that was revised in the most recent collective bargaining agreement between the league and the NFLPA completed in 2020, the initial ruling on a prospective suspension or fine will be made by Robinson, now an attorney in Wilmington, Del., after retiring from the bench in 2017.

The case would be finished, with no appeals possible, if Robinson rules that there was no violation of the personal conduct policy. If she rules that there was a violation of the policy and imposes a penalty, either side could appeal to Goodell. The NFLPA pushed for revisions to the personal conduct policy in the CBA after clashes, some of which spilled into courtrooms after litigation filed by the union and players, in previous disciplinary cases. Previously, Goodell was responsible for making both the initial disciplinary ruling and resolving appeals.

It’s not clear whether Robinson will hold what amounts to a quasi-trial before making her decision. She declined to comment this week, referring questions to the league and union.

The NFL’s investigation has been conducted by Lisa Friel, the former chief of the sex crimes prosecution unit for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office who is the league’s special counsel for investigations.

Friel interviewed at least 11 of the women accusing Watson who are represented by attorney Tony Buzbee, according to a person familiar with the investigation, along with other women. She reviewed relevant available documents. The NFL’s representatives interviewed Watson over several days in Houston.

[…]

The league has made a presentation on the case to the NFLPA and Watson’s representatives, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That led those on Watson’s side of the case to conclude that the NFL will seek a substantial penalty.

It’s not clear whether Major League Baseball’s two-season suspension of pitcher Trevor Bauer under its domestic violence policy will serve as a precedent for the NFL’s proposed suspension of Watson, another person familiar with the league’s view said in recent weeks. But the NFL is aware that the length of the Bauer suspension could affect the public’s expectations and reaction in the Watson case, that person said.

Outside NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler has become involved in the case. A person familiar with the NFL’s view said the league is wary that Kessler will argue for no disciplinary action at all.

Kessler declined to comment Friday, referring questions to the NFLPA. The NFLPA could cite the lack of criminal charges, although the NFL’s policy allows discipline to be imposed without such charges.

The NFLPA’s defense of Watson will raise the issue that owners Daniel Snyder of the Washington Commanders, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys were not suspended by the league for incidents involving them and their teams. That was confirmed by a person with knowledge of the case after first being reported by Pro Football Talk.

I think one year is the minimum. The charges against Watson are considerably greater than those against Bauer, and as such I wouldn’t mind seeing him get two years as his punishment. Maybe Robinson or Friel found Watson’s accusers to be not fully credible, or maybe the NFLPA’s argument about the lack of punishment for these miscreant owners will hold some sway, I don’t know. I just don’t have any sympathy for either Watson or the Browns. Whatever the case, the expectation is that there will be an answer by the start of NFL training camp, which is to say by late July.

Too much Deshaun Watson news

The lawsuit counter ticks up again.

The official number of lawsuits pending against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will indeed increase to 26.

Attorney Tony Buzbee tells Josh Voight of WEWS in Cleveland that two more women will be suing Watson.

Buzbee said that one of the plaintiffs came to him via a referral from a lawyer in Atlanta. The other plaintiff saw last month’s feature regarding the allegations on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.

So how many more will there be? Last week, Jenny Vrentas of the New York Times reported that Watson got massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period. The 24th lawsuit against Watson, filed last week, contends that Watson received more than 100 massages from “random strangers” he found on Instagram.

Seems to me we can’t answer that question just yet. Not until we know what the total number of women who could plausibly sue him is. And that number, no one (except maybe Watson himself) has any idea what it is.

Speaking of which, Watson could certainly do more to make this all stop, if he wanted to.

“I just want to clear my name,” Watson said, explaining that he wants to let the facts come out in a court of law. This means that, for now, he intends to keep fighting these cases. All of them. The 24 already filed. The two more to come. And any others that may eventually be filed.

The process will take time. None of the cases will go to trial until after March 1, 2023. And, without settlements, 26 trials will take a lot of time. The cases likely will linger into 2024. Depending on the final number of cases filed, the trials might not end until 2025.

Watson also was asked about the contention (not a report, but a contention) from one of the lawsuits that he offered $100,000 to each of the plaintiffs last year.

“There was a process that was going on back in November with another organization,” Watson said, without specifically addressing whether settlement offers were made to resolve the cases so that he could be traded to Miami. However, his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, already has said publicly that the Dolphins wanted the cases to be resolved before a trade would happen, and that an effort was made to do so.

Watson was asked whether he stands by his statement from March that he has “no regrets” about what happened.

“I think that question kind of triggered a lot of people,” Watson said, explaining that he was saying he never assaulted, disrespected, or harassed anyone. He acknowledged that he does regret the impact of the existence of the various cases has had on “many” people.

And what of the report from the New York Times that Watson received massages from at least 66 women in a 17-month period? Is that number accurate?

“I don’t think so,” Watson said, before deferring to his lawyers.

I don’t know what happened between Deshaun Watson and all these women. I do know that it’s impossible to believe that nothing untoward happened.

At some point, the NFL needs to decide what it believes.

Last month, Deshaun Watson‘s lawyer said they expect to hear something from the NFL in June. As of tomorrow, June is already halfway over. And there’s no indication that the league is ready to do anything.

Then again, there rarely is any such indication of what the league will do, until the league does it. If the league will be trying to suspend Watson without pay to start the 2022 season, time is of the essence.

Remember, it’s a three-step process. First, the league office proposes discipline. Second, the Disciplinary Office (retired judge Sue L. Robinson) evaluates the case, conducts a hearing (if she deems it necessary), and makes a decision. Third, unless Judge Robinson decides to impose no discipline at all (which would end the process), the Commissioner handles the appeal. His decision is final.

It will take time for the second and third steps. At the latest, it needs to be resolved before Week One. Ideally, the Browns will have an answer before the start of training camp. (Then again, the Browns can’t complain about the current uncertainty; they made this bed.)

With two more lawsuits to be filed, pushing the total to 26, and with no indication as to what the final tally will be, it’s making more and more sense for the NFL to press pause on Watson’s career via paid leave, letting him focus on putting these 26 cases (and counting) behind him for good.

That is a thing the league could do. I’m sure the league would like to see these stories end.

I will say again: The longer this goes on, the worse it looks.

A Houston police detective testified this week that she believed Deshaun Watson committed crimes after investigating 10 criminal complaints against him, according to a pretrial deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.

The detective, Kamesha Baker, said she expressed her opinion to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. But she wasn’t called to testify before the grand jury in Harris County, Texas, and doesn’t know why the grand jury didn’t indict the Cleveland Browns quarterback on criminal charges. She said she believed Watson committed criminal indecent assault, sexual assault and prostitution in cases where money was exchanged and there was consensual sex.

“Did you feel confident that you had the evidence needed to pursue those charges?” Baker was asked in the deposition.

“Yes,” Baker said.

“And was there any doubt in your mind as the investigating officer that a crime had occurred?”

“No,” Baker said.

Baker testified in a pretrial deposition for the civil litigation against Watson in Houston, where he has been sued by 24 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. Eight of those women also filed complaints with Houston police about Watson’s conduct, in addition to two other women who filed police complaints who have not sued Watson in civil court.

That one of the detectives involved believed this is perhaps not surprising. It doesn’t mean it’s true. The point is, there is still a lot we the public don’t know about these cases. And like I said, the more we find out, the worse it all looks. Sean Pendergast has more.

Texans to be added as defendants to some Watson lawsuits

On and on we go.

Attorney Tony Buzbee said Wednesday that he plans to add the Texans as defendants in some of the 24 civil lawsuits women have filed against Deshaun Watson.

Buzbee said the franchise facilitated the former quarterback’s massage sessions at a local hotel, enabled his pursuit of massages away from team facilities by providing equipment and a non-disclosure agreement and “knew or certainly should have known” about his alleged sexual misconduct.

Buzbee said he decided to add the Texans to some of the lawsuits after a deposition with Houston Police Department detective K. Dawn Baker, who helped present the special victim unit’s criminal case against Watson to the Harris County district attorney’s office. Court records show that Baker was interviewed at 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Buzbee’s office. Two grand juries — one in Harris County and one in Brazoria County — declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

“What has become clear is that the Houston Texans organization and their contracting ‘massage therapy company’ facilitated Deshaun Watson’s conduct,” Buzbee said in a statement. “In many of these cases, the Texans provided the opportunity for this conduct to occur. We believe the Texans organization was well aware of Watson’s issues but failed to act. They knew or certainly should have known.”

Buzbee said the Texans provided rooms for Watson at The Houstonian Hotel for his massages. Three women who filed suit against Watson said massages occurred at the hotel. In one lawsuit, Watson informed one of the women he had a private suite where the session could take place.

Watson acknowledged the Texans arranged for him to have “a place” at the hotel, according to a deposition obtained in a New York Times report that said the franchise enabled their star quarterback’s behavior. Watson said his access to the property wasn’t under his name, according to the Times, and a woman who gave Watson a massage at the hotel said the room was registered to a member of the Texans’ training staff.

Buzbee said the Texans also provided massage tables, although the franchise had its own training resources, which supported Watson’s pursuit of massage therapy away from the team’s facilities. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, has attributed the quarterback’s frequent pursuit of independent appointments to the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Times, Brent Naccara, a former Secret Service agent who is the Texans’ director of security, also gave Watson an NDA form after one of the women posted text messages, Watson’s phone number and his Cash App receipts on Instagram in early November 2020 along with the message, “I could really expose you.”

See here for the background. We’re still waiting for the NFL to decide what to do about Watson, and it seems to me that question needs to be expanded to include what to do about the Texans. I really wish I lived in a world where nobody acted like Deshaun Watson, and nobody acted to make life easier for people like Deshaun Watson. Sean Pendergast has more.

The NYT takes a closer look at the Deshaun Watson situation

It’s even worse than it looks.

It is time, Watson and his representatives say, for everyone to move on.

Yet a New York Times examination of records, including depositions and evidence for civil lawsuits as well as interviews of some of the women, showed that Watson engaged in more questionable behavior than previously known.

The Times’ review also showed that Watson’s conduct was enabled — knowingly or not — by the team he played for at the time, the Houston Texans, which provided the venue Watson used for some of the appointments. A team representative also furnished him with a nondisclosure agreement after a woman who is now suing him threatened online to expose his behavior.

Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lawyer, said his client “continues to vehemently deny” the allegations in the lawsuits. He declined to respond in detail to the Times’ questions, but said in a statement, “We can say when the real facts are known this issue will appear in a different light.”

The Texans did not respond to specific questions about Watson’s use of team resources. They said in a statement that they first learned of the allegations against him in March 2021, have cooperated with investigators and “will continue to do so.”

Watson has said publicly that he hired about 40 different therapists across his five seasons in Houston, but the Times’ reporting found that he booked appointments with at least 66 different women in just the 17 months from fall 2019 through spring 2021. A few of these additional women, speaking publicly for the first time, described experiences that undercut Watson’s insistence that he was only seeking professional massage therapy.

One woman, who did not sue Watson or complain to police, told the Times that he was persistent in his requests for sexual acts during their massage, including “begging” her to put her mouth on his penis.

“I specifically had to say, ‘No, I can’t do that,’” said the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect her family’s privacy. “And that’s when I went into asking him, ‘What is it like being famous? Like, what’s going on? You’re about to mess up everything.’”

[…]

Since the first wave of suits were filed against Watson last year, the main allegations against him have become familiar. Women complained that Watson turned massages sexual without their consent, including purposely touching them with his penis and coercing sexual acts.

It’s not clear when he began looking for so many different women to give him massages. Hardin has said his client needed to book appointments “ad hoc” when the coronavirus pandemic began, though Watson began working with numerous women before then.

Not all of the women who gave Watson massages between October 2019 and March 2021 have detailed their interactions with him. Some who have shared their experiences say they had no problems with him. Others describe troubling — and similar — behaviors.

The 66 women are:

— The 24 who have sued him, including two who filed suits within the last week. In the most recent suit, the woman said Watson masturbated during the massage.

— A woman who sued but then withdrew the complaint because of “privacy and security concerns.”

— Two women who filed criminal complaints against Watson but did not sue him.

— At least 15 therapists who issued statements of support for Watson at the request of his lawyers and gave him massages during that period.

— At least four therapists from Genuine Touch, the massage therapy group contracted with the Texans.

— Five women identified by the plaintiffs’ lawyers during the investigation for their civil suits.

— At least 15 other women whose appointments with Watson were confirmed through interviews and records reviewed by the Times.

A deeper look at the lawsuits, including a review of private messages entered as evidence, shows the lengthy efforts by Watson to book massages and the methods he used to assure women that he could be trusted.

It’s a long story and worth your time to read. Here’s a brief Twitter thread from the story’s author, if you need more of a preview. Remember that the NFL still has not said what its investigation has revealed or what its discipline for Watson will be, and please note as Sean Pendergast pointed out, there could still be more criminal charges against Watson, as the most recent accusers were not part of the original grand jury hearings. Every day this story gets worse, and we’re not finished with it yet. Defector has more.

Complaint #24 filed against Deshaun Watson

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

24th civil lawsuit was filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson on Monday, as Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee referenced last week. The lawsuit details another woman’s account of Watson’s alleged predatory behavior during massage therapy sessions, which “mortified” the woman and resulted in her leaving her field.The woman chose to come forward after reading that Watson said he has no regrets and has done nothing wrong, the lawsuit says.

Watson, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March, has maintained his innocence and said during his initial press conference with his new team that he “never assaulted,” “never disrespected,” and “never harassed any woman in my life.”

The latest suit follows a 23rd that was filed Tuesday by a woman who also claimed Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020 and claimed the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

Hardin also claimed that “happy endings” in massage therapy sessions are not a crime in a radio interview with Sports Radio 610 Friday, comments that were referenced in the most recent lawsuit.

[…]

Hardin told 610 hosts Seth Payne and Sean Pendergast that “doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime, and so we’ve had two grand juries find that and nobody seems to want to listen.”

“I don’t know how many men are out there now that have had a massage that perhaps occasionally there was a happy ending,” Hardin said. “All right? Maybe there’s nobody in your listening audience that that never happened to. I do want to point out if it has happened, it’s not a crime. OK? Unless you are paying somebody extra or so to give you some type of sexual activity, it’s not a crime.”

Hardin issued a statement after the radio show appearance that clarified his defense that “Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex” and that he “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,” Hardin said in the statement. “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.”

See here for the previous entry. Maybe ease up a bit on the media appearances, Rusty. As Sean Pendergast notes, those comments are part of this 24th suit against Watson. It’s impossible to read either of those stories and not just feel gross about the whole rancid situation. We’re still waiting to hear what action the NFL will take, by the way. I won’t be surprised if these latest complaints have given them some pause.

On a side note, this paywalled story in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel ran in the print edition of the Chron on Tuesday. It connects the Watson situation with the Brian Flores lawsuit against the NFL, for which the Texans are also named as defendants. Worth a read if you have access to either of those sources.

UPDATE: Just saw this big NYT piece about Watson and the many massage therapists. I’ll get to it tomorrow. And there’s more from Sean Pendergast that you need to read, too.

23rd lawsuit filed against Deshaun Watson

That may not be the end as well.

A 23rd lawsuit has been filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.

The latest suit, filed Tuesday by a massage therapist, says Watson sexually assaulted her during three sessions in 2020. The lawsuit also claims the owner of a Houston-area spa facilitated the massages for Watson, knew he was attempting to have sex with the therapists and that Watson paid the owner at least $5,000 for the work.

The lawsuit also claims one of Watson’s attorneys found the woman’s contact information in Watson’s cell phone, took her to dinner in “an effort to intimidate her” with “an apparent attempt to determine” if she was filing a lawsuit, and attempted to convince her to say “nice and positive things about Watson,” which the woman refused.

Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin said that it was two of his lawyers who met with the woman, and they “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” in a meeting he described was “so congenial,” the woman joined the attorneys for dinner afterward.

The attorneys met with the woman to see if she was one of Houston-based attorney Tony Buzbee’s anonymous plaintiffs, Hardin said, since Buzbee, who represents the women, refused to identify his clients at the time.

[…

The woman changed her mind about filing a lawsuit after watching the HBO “Real Sports” episode that aired May 24 and delved into the previous lawsuits filed against Watson. The woman had initially “agonized” over whether to bring a lawsuit against Watson, the lawsuit says. She had no intention of doing so initially, but her name still “found its way into the public sphere” once the lawsuits began to emerge. The Chronicle does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission.

Even after sharing her story in a July 2021 interview on an online stream, she “had no intention of filing a lawsuit,” the lawsuit says, because she “did not want to put herself and her family through the turmoil” and “did not want to subject herself to further abuse and ugliness” that she’d seen the other women experience after filing their lawsuits.

Buzbee, who represents the other 22 women who have filed suit, confirmed that the latest case has been referred to him and said “our team will be filing another lawsuit, similar to the others already filed, this week.”

See here for some background. It’s not surprising that the appearance by some of the plaintiffs on “Real Sports” has brought more complainants out. It helps knowing that you’re not alone.

A copy of lawsuit #23 is embedded in the story, and note the comment at the end about #24 being in the works. An announcement from the NFL about a what kind of discipline Watson will face from the league is still expected soon. Sean Pendergast has more.

Watson accusers get their say

You can see them saying it.

The $230 million contract the Cleveland Browns gave to former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson was a “big screw you” to the 22 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct.

After Houston traded Watson in March, Cleveland gave him a fully guaranteed $230 million contract. The way the new contract was structured, all but $1 million of Watson’s 2022 salary was put into bonuses so he would not lose that money if he were to be suspended by the NFL.

“It’s just like a big ‘screw you,’” Ashley Solis told HBO’s Soledad O’Brien as part of a “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” episode that was to air at 9 p.m. CT on Tuesday . “That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”

Said Ashley Hayes, another accuser interviewed on the show: “It was sick to me. I felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”

Watson is facing 22 civil suits that accuse him of sexual assault and harassment during massage appointments. Two Houston-area grand juries have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges.

The NFL is still investigating and has made no ruling on a possible suspension for 2022. Watson did not play with the Texans in 2021.

There’s an embedded video in the story if you want a preview. As Sean Pendergast notes, we may be getting close to an NFL decision about whatever discipline they will impose on Watson. He was in Texas last week to meet with NFL officials, with the general impression being that the league is wrapping up its investigation. (Watson has other reasons to come back to Texas as well.) We’ll know soon enough. More from Pendergast about the HBOMax show here.

What is going on with the Houston Dash?

Nothing good.

The Dash have suspended coach and general manager James Clarkson, who is being investigated by the NWSL and its players association.

The suspension came “in light of initial findings received this week,” the Dash said.

The team opens its regular season Sunday and will name an interim coach during the investigation.

“As an organization, our highest priority is creating and maintaining a safe and respectful work environment for our players and staff, which we believe is critical to our success on the pitch,” the team said in its statement. “The Club has made counseling services available to all members of the organization interested.”

The investigation is part of a recent initiative by the women’s soccer league to review current and historic complaints of discrimination, harassment and abuse.

Last year, several NWSL managers were fired for verbal abuse, including former OL Reign manager Farid Benstiti and former Washington Spirit manager Richie Burke. Former North Carolina Courage manager Paul Riley was fired for allegedly engaging in the sexual coercion of players during his time as manager of the Portland Thorns.

When it was revealed that the various NWSL stakeholders were aware of the circumstances under which Riley was fired by the Thorns in 2015, NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird resigned.

The league and the union agreed that league personnel would voluntarily take part in the union’s investigation of sexual misconduct, and that there be total transparency by the league in terms of other ongoing investigations.

Clarkson has been head coach since 2018, and with the team since it was founded, along with the NWSL, in 2014. The new NWSL Commissioner says this is a good sign that the new process is working.

New National Women’s Soccer League Commissioner Jessica Berman said Wednesday that while it’s disappointing another league coach has been accused of misconduct, programs that were implemented in the wake of last season’s league scandals have helped make sure players’ concerns are addressed.

[…]

“This is the manifestation of the process that the league and the players’ association put in place which provided a pathway for individuals to bring forward issues and for those issues to be investigated and managed appropriately,” Berman said. “And so while we never like to have situations like this happen, the fact that the process worked the way it was intended to, and that all of the appropriate parties worked together on the interim solution and the next steps was really important and constructive overall for the progress that the league is making on this issue.”

Berman, who began her job April 20, said she could not address the specifics of the investigation because it is ongoing.

Clarkson is the longest-tenured coach in the NWSL. He was the only head coach still with his team who was coach at the start of last NWSL season. All the others have either voluntarily left the league for new opportunities, gone to other teams within the league, resigned or were dismissed because of alleged misconduct.

I guess you could call it a good sign, but it sure is a bad look overall. Though to be fair, it’s not just the NWSL.

The University of Florida announced it fired women’s soccer coach Tony Amato after just one season with the program. The move comes after players complained about how Amato treated them and a large number chose to transfer from the program.

“We have worked diligently with Tony since last fall when I first became aware of challenges with relationship building and communication,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “As the issues continued to be brought to my attention, it became apparent that sufficient progress was not being made and Tony was not a fit for the University of Florida.”

Florida hired Amato away from Arizona last year, after the coach spent eight years with the Wildcats. In total, Amato has been a head coach in each of the last 19 seasons for four different schools.

The Gators went 4-12-4 in their first year under Amato. However, according to Payton Titus of WUFT, players had complained that Amato “pressured them about eating habits and their bodies” last year. Amato was reportedly strict over what the players ate, to the point that some players said they had developed eating disorders as a result.

There’s a range of behaviors here, and we don’t know what James Clarkson is alleged to have done. There may not be anything in common between his actions and those of Tony Amato, but I think we can agree that Amato’s behavior falls into the bucket of things that can be called abusive, and that’s the larger issue with the NWSL. As I said, it’s a bad look, wherever it’s happening. I hope that league really has taken a substantive step towards fixing it.

The “That’s right, you’re not from Texas” legal gambit

Tony Buzbee, y’all.

The legal trouble that Deshaun Watson is facing in Houston already is threatening to get in the way of his new job in Cleveland.

Lawyers for the 22 women who are suing Watson last week filed a notice of their intention to take his pretrial deposition testimony on five different days in early May at the Houston office of Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin. But Hardin is fighting it, noting that the NFL quarterback recently changed jobs after being traded by the Houston Texans to the Cleveland Browns.

“Mr. Watson recently moved out of state and currently lives in Ohio,” said a document submitted by Hardin’s firm in court Friday. “He also has a full-time job that requires his presence in Ohio Monday through Friday. As a result, Mr. Watson is not available for depositions in Texas on the dates unilaterally noticed by Plaintiffs. Counsel for Mr. Watson offered multiple dates for Mr. Watson’s deposition that were rejected by Plaintiffs’ counsel.”

Hardin has filed a motion to quash those depositions, leading to a court hearing set for next week in Houston, where Judge Rabeea Collier could decide the matter.

If the implication of this is unclear, Pro Football Talk explains it for you.

First, Watson’s presence is “required” only for the offseason program. Second, it should be fairly easy to schedule the depositions for the window of six weeks or so between the end of the offseason program and the start of training camp.

Third, Buzbee knows well what he’s doing. He’s trying to exert even more settlement pressure on Watson by making the process as big of a pain in the butt as possible. And, yes, it would be much better for Watson if he simply settled the cases. But Buzbee knows this, which will serve only to make the price of settlement higher.

In other words, come to the table for a settlement agreement, or I’m going to keep trying to drag you back to Houston as often as possible for depositions and whatnot, which will be annoying to you and your new team and really wouldn’t you rather just settle already? We’ll see if it works.

Deshaun Watson must disclose whether he had sex with 18 massage therapists

There’s a headline for you.

NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson now will have to answer whether he had sex with 18 additional therapists who came to his defense about his massage habits last year, according to a ruling Tuesday by a Texas judge.

Watson is being sued by 22 other women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. As part of the pretrial discovery process in those lawsuits, their attorneys have sought to have Watson answer written “requests for admission” about whether he had sex with the 18 therapists who publicly supported him after the lawsuits against him started in March 2021.

Watson, who recently was traded to the Cleveland Browns, previously refused to answer these questions, saying it was harassing, private and not relevant, according to an objection filed by his attorneys in court.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys countered by saying it will help show Watson’s pattern and motives in seeking massages with dozens of different women, many of whom he met on social media. They asked the court to compel him to answer, leading to a hearing in court Tuesday between the two sides.

Harris County District Court Judge Rabeea Sultan Collier decided in favor of the plaintiffs, overruling the objection by Watson’s attorney, Leah Graham.

[…]

The plaintiffs’ attorneys also succeeded in their quest to compel Watson to produce certain other information about his history of massages since 2019, as well as any language about massages in his contract with the Houston Texans, Watson’s previous team. The judge gave Watson’s team 30 days to comply.

“We will continue to force Mr. Watson to answer our questions and reveal the full parameters of his conduct,” plaintiffs attorney Tony Buzbee said in an e-mail afterward.

[…]

In the case of the 18 therapists at issue, they did come out to support Watson publicly one year ago in statements released by his attorney, Rusty Hardin. They said Watson, 26, never made them feel uncomfortable during their interactions with him, unlike the other 22 women who are suing him. Hardin’s strategy with releasing such information at the time apparently was to take some heat off his client. A year later, Watson must answer more about his histories with those 18 women, if there were any, according to the judge’s ruling.

Graham called it a “fishing expedition” by the plaintiffs and not relevant to the specific allegations in individual lawsuits.

Plaintiffs attorney Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey disagreed, telling the judge Watson “went to massage therapy sessions intending to have sex, intending to do something else, not have a massage.”

“That is at the heart of this case,” she said.

She added “we’re not asking whether he had sex with anybody in the world” but instead with specific therapists, including the 18 who had “voluntarily publicly identified themselves.”

I probably have a post that noted the massage therapists who publicly supported Watson, but I didn’t go looking for it. I don’t think I have anything to add to this.

“Due diligence”

I’m just gonna leave this right here.

The Browns said they did due diligence before agreeing to give Deshaun Watson a $230 million contract and complete a trade with the Texans.

Watson is facing 22 civil suits for sexual harassment or assault but a Harris County grand jury recently declined to indict the quarterback on nine cases. The NFL said its investigation is ongoing.

“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson,“ Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam said in a team news release on Sunday. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.

“We also understand there are still some legal proceedings that are ongoing and we will respect due process.”

Last week, the Haslams flew to Houston with general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski and met with Watson.

“He was humble, sincere and candid,” the Haslams said. “In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field. … We are confident in Deshaun and excited about moving forward with him as our quarterback and supporting his genuine and determined efforts.”

The civil litigation involving Watson remains ongoing. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, said Tuesday “there’s no discussion” about settling any of the cases. Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed lawsuits, has been deposing Watson in four-to-six hour blocks and said it could be well beyond April before the cases are potentially brought before a jury in civil court.

The Browns have not reached out to Buzbee or his clients, the attorney said Friday.

Emphasis mine. Yeah, I don’t think that’s how “due diligence” works. But thanks for taking full responsibility for whatever happens next. The Hang Up and Listen podcast (segment three, fast forward to about the 48 minute mark if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing), which notes that no other team did any more “due diligence” than Cleveland did, has more.

First round of Deshaun Watson depositions

He hasn’t had much to say so far.

Four days after a Harris County grand jury chose not to indict Deshaun Watson, the Texans quarterback answered questions for the first time while under oath in connection to 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during various massage appointments.

Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed suit, began deposing Watson on Friday. But Watson asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself while the criminal investigation was still ongoing. Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said his client would no longer decline to answer questions since the criminal case has concluded.

Buzbee said he spent Tuesday’s deposition questioning Watson about two of his accusers for close to four hours. A judge allotted Buzbee 48 hours to question Watson under oath, and with the next deposition scheduled for March 22, the civil litigation could stretch beyond April before it is potentially resolved in court.

[…]

Tuesday revealed a potential pattern for future depositions. Buzbee said he questioned Watson in reference to the massage therapy sessions involving the two women. Buzbee said Watson told him “he did everything right” and didn’t offer lengthy answers about specific incidents because he said he couldn’t remember one session from another.

Buzbee requested texts and Instagram exchanges between Watson and the women. Buzbee said his clients provided the information, but Watson had deleted all of his Instagram messages and none of the “six or seven” phone numbers he provided had been involved in text exchanges.

Hardin said it was “a normal process” for Watson to delete his Instagram messages. Watson has 1.4 million followers on the social media platform, and Hardin said Watson regularly deleted messages “when he no longer was having contact with somebody,” but did not delete any messages once the lawsuits were filed.

Watson changed his phone number frequently because of his celebrity status, Hardin said. With such a high rate of public exposure, people would “start calling him and texting him” once they got a hold of his contact information.

See here for the previous update. I actually drafted this before the trade; life comes at you fast. Lots of people delete various things on social media as a matter of policy, and I’m sure plenty of famous people change phone numbers often, for the reasons stated above. I might not be able to remember an individual massage session on a given date, if nothing out of the ordinary happened during it. That doesn’t mean we can’t look askance at Watson’s answers to these questions. Tony Buzbee says later in the article that when this all goes before a jury – Rusty Hardin confirms in the story that they are not looking to settle – it’s going to come down to who the jurors find to be more credible. I completely agree.

Deshaun Watson traded to Cleveland

He’s someone else’s problem now.

The Texans have traded Deshaun Watson to the Browns. The quarterback waived his no-trade clause for Cleveland after initially eliminating the franchise, a person with knowledge of the negotiation said, but Watson reversed his decision Friday after the Browns offered a five-year contract worth $230 million.

The new contract, which is fully guaranteed, preceded the terms of the trade. The Texans will receive Cleveland’s first-round picks in 2022, 2023 and 2024, the Browns’ 2023 third-round pick and 2024 fourth-round pick.

Once finalized, the trade will end one of the longest and messiest divorces in Houston sports history. The 14 month-long saga began with the former franchise quarterback’s trade demand and ended after a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson following a criminal investigation that was triggered by 22 women who filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during various massage therapy sessions.

The blockbuster trade did not yield the second-round picks that were part of the returns second-year general manager Nick Caserio solidly requested for almost a year, but it remains enough capital to reinforce the new regime’s efforts to sculpt the franchise in their own image.

The rebuilding franchise also cleared Watson’s previous four-year, $156 million contract extension off the books, which immediately boosts Houston’s roster budget as the free agency period begins. Caserio has made frugal signings so far by re-signing 15 players and acquiring nine other veteran players, but the executive now has the financial freedom to become more aggressive.

Meanwhile, the civil litigation involving Watson remains ongoing. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, said Tuesday “there’s no discussion” about settling any of the cases. Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed lawsuits, has been deposing Watson in four-to-six hour blocks and said it could be well beyond April before the cases are potentially brought before a jury in civil court.

The NFL has yet to render a decision from its own investigation into Watson. The league could potentially suspend for an unknown number of future games, although it’s possible a punishment won’t be handed down until the civil litigation ends.

Not really much to say here. Once there were no charges filed against Watson, everything fell into place for him to be traded, as teams were willing to live with whatever civil action (and likely league suspension) would happen, just not criminal penalties. Watson himself basically dictated the terms thanks to his no trade clause. And now he’s gone, and whatever one might have once felt about him and his abilities on the field, that’s gone as well. I’ll keep an eye on those civil cases because they do matter even if they no longer truly affect his football career, but I’m happy to not think about Deshaun Watson otherwise. Good riddance. Rivers McCown and Sean Pendergast have more.

No charges against Deshaun Watson

Good for him, I guess.

A Harris County grand jury on Friday declined to indict Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, choosing not to criminally charge him in nine alleged instances of sexual assault or harassment during various private massage appointments, according to Johna Stallings of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.

The decision came down the same day Watson was deposed in connection with two of the 22 civil lawsuits against him, which are separate legal matters. Watson declined to answer questions under oath, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate himself during that proceeding, attorney Rusty Hardin said.

Neither of those cases in the deposition involved women who filed criminal cases against the quarterback, however. Tony Buzbee, who is representing the women who filed suit, said Friday he asked Watson several hundred questions over about three hours of depositions.

Watson, 26, has denied any wrongdoing.

After the grand jury’s decision was announced, Hardin said he is ready to move forward.

“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Hardin said in a statement. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses.”

See here for the previous entry. I don’t know what I expected from this, but getting no-billed was certainly on my list of possible outcomes. As for the depositions:

While a Harris County grand jury eight blocks away met to decide whether to criminally indict Deshaun Watson, the Texans quarterback spent Friday morning at his attorney’s downtown office building where he declined to answer questions while under oath for the first time in connection to 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault and harassment during various massage appointments.

Tony Buzbee, who represents the women who filed suit, said he asked Watson several hundred questions over about three hours of depostions. In each, Watson asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Buzbee said there was no connection between Friday’s two legal proceedings. A judge allotted Buzbee 48 total hours to depose Watson, and, on Friday, Buzbee said he asked Watson about facts and circumstances in reference to two women who did not file criminal complaints and believes his clients are “entitled” to hear Watson’s version of events.

“There should be no incrimination involved at all,” Buzbee said. “If you didn’t do anything wrong, if you didn’t do anything illegal, answer the question. It would be one thing if we were asking questions about the women that have filed criminal complaints. We’re not doing that.”

Days before the deposition, Buzbee said he received written testimony from Watson that he had no communication with either woman. Buzbee also requested Watson to provide any phone number that he may have used to communicate with the women. Watson provided seven or eight phone numbers, Buzbee said. Buzbee claimed to have a combined 50 pages of communication between Watson and the women, and he said none of the phone numbers Watson provided had been used in those communications.

Hardin said Watson is “more than willing to talk” in the civil depositions but was following his advice not to incriminate himself while the criminal case was ongoing. When asked how the answers from a deposition with women who were not involved in the criminal investigation would be used against Watson, Hardin said “I have no idea.”

“But you would never take that chance,” Hardin said. “That’s the point. The issue is, is the lawyer going to allow his client to give a civil deposition on the same subject matter that is currently being considered by a grand jury and you won’t find a lawyer who will.”

Hardin said Wastson will waive his silence and answer questions in the civil case after the criminal investigation is resolved, and he said Buzbee has wanted Watson to plead the fifth all along because it gives him an advantage in the civil cases.

Again, I guess I’m not surprised. I’m certainly not in any position to question either Hardin or Buzbee’s legal strategy. The one thing everyone seems to agree on at this time is that this clears the path for the Texans to trade him, as other teams had been waiting to see what happened with the criminal charges. The civil cases, which will continue on in court, didn’t scare them. Make of that what you will. Sean Pendergast has more.

Deshaun Watson will face some depositions

A long-awaited update on this case.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson must undergo depositions in connection to at least some of the 22 misconduct allegations made against him before April, a judge on Monday ordered.

Lawyers involved in civil litigation against the athlete on Monday argued whether Watson should wait until after April 1 to take questions on the allegations. His attorney, Rusty Hardin, expressed concern that depositions could provide evidence in a separate criminal investigation being conducted by the Houston Police Department.

“We know that the police have forwarded to the (Harris County) district attorney’s office their findings and their conclusions,” Hardin said in the 113th District Court.

From that point, a grand jury will decide whether criminal charges against Watson are merited. When that could happen is uncertain — but Hardin appears to believe his client’s fate in the criminal matter may be known by April 1.

Watson is accused of sexual misconduct during several massage therapy sessions, the bulk of which are said to have happened in 2020. Eight of the 22 accusers have filed police reports.

Hardin argued that his client should hold off on sitting down for a deposition — while lawyer Tony Buzbee, representing the accusers, argued that Hardin should stick to the schedule they agreed upon at the suit’s beginning. The ongoing HPD investigation should not make a difference in the civil case either, he said.

Buzbee said delaying Watson’s deposition further is unfair to the plaintiffs who have already endured 75 hours of questions as part of their lawsuit against him. Depositions are a procedure that allows lawyers in the case to question those involved about the allegations. Watson is accused of sexual misconduct during several massage therapy sessions, the bulk of which are said to have happened in 2020.

[…]

Judge Rabeea Collier ruled, partially, in Hardin’s favor.

Six women have yet to undergo depositions, lawyers said. Of those women, Buzbee can depose Watson on their allegation ahead of April 1 — as long as the accuser is not among those who filed a police report, Collier ruled.

“I’m allowing you to take Mr. Watson’s deposition on case specific details for those who have not filed a criminal complaint,” Collier said in court.

The police investigation was among the reasons why Hardin asked Collier last week to postpone Watson’s deposition until April 1.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen on April 1,” the judge said, adding that Hardin can seek a stay if he wants.

See here and here for the most recent updates. The court had signed an agreement in May that said Watson could not be deposed before February 22, which is to say this past Tuesday, and that some of the women who accused him of sexual misconduct would be deposed beginning in September. As Sean Pendergast notes, this likely means that the criminal case that HPD has investigated will come to some sort of resolution in the next month or so, as the case is now in the hands of the DA’s office. Though if he’s indicted on one or more charges, that just moves things to another stage, one that may also take a long time to work through. There’s also that FBI investigation, and who knows what that may mean.

So we’re getting closer to something, whatever it may be. As for Watson’s football fate, go read Pro Football Network and Rivers McCown for more. There’s a chance that could get resolved as well in the next couple of months, but it seems that a lot of things would have to happen for that.

New details about the Deshaun Watson criminal investigation

All sorts of bad things from the search warrants.

Houston police have at least nine reports accusing Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, with search warrant records showing that investigators are eyeing indecent assault — a misdemeanor crime — as a possible criminal charge.

The three search warrants — signed in October by a judge to collect data from Watson’s Instagram and Cash App usage — shed light on the Houston Police Department’s criminal investigation into the athlete, who has not been charged with a crime, amid months of litigation from nearly two dozen lawsuits. The search warrants detail accounts from nine women who say their encounters with Watson devolved from massages to misconduct.

The women reported receiving Cash App payments after the sessions, with some amounts ranging from $100 to $300, according to court records.

In two incidents at The Houstonian Hotel, the football player pressured the women into performing felatio, court records show. One licensed massage therapist said Watson contacted her on Instagram and that they met in June 2020 for a massage without incident. During a second appointment at the Memorial-area hotel, he asked her for oral sex.

The woman “felt as if she had no choice,” the investigator wrote.

[…]

Much of the accusations outlined in the search warrants were already detailed in civil lawsuits against Watson but investigators also revealed aspects of the case not previously made public using interviews that the Forensic Center of Excellence — a Houston group of forensic nurses who specializes in trauma — conducted with the accusers.

The Houston Police Department acknowledged in April their investigation into Watson but have declined to comment since. The civil litigation, meanwhile, is still pending.

Investigations by the FBI into Watson’s alleged behavior and the NFL are also happening. Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has denied wrongdoing by the quarterback, saying any sexual encounters with massage therapists were consensual.

On Wednesday, Hardin said he welcomed the police department’s investigation into his client’s records.

I’ve skipped over most of the more graphic stuff. The HPD investigation is still ongoing, the civil litigation is awaiting the first court dates, and Watson is still a non-playing member of the Texans. Not much else to say at this point.

There were settlement talks with Watson and his accusers

They did not succeed.

The attorney representing 22 women suing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson says settlement talks between the two sides broke down before the NFL’s trade deadline because of language Watson’s legal team insisted they include in nondisclosure agreements.

“In what was submitted to us, there were nondisclosure agreements and many of the women pushed back on those,” attorney Tony Buzbee told Houston television station Fox 26 in an interview Tuesday evening.

Buzbee said he and his colleagues modified the language in the proposed nondisclosure agreements “substantially” but added that “there were still some women who said, ‘I’m never going to sign that.'”

He told Fox 26 that the NDAs were ultimately a “deal breaker” in efforts to settle the cases.

Buzbee’s interview is the first confirmation from either of the legal teams involved in Watson’s civil cases that the two sides had entered a period of mediation.

“Now that the heat is off I probably won’t be getting calls from the other side wanting to settle the case,” Buzbee said, a reference to the pressure involved in settling the lawsuits prior to the NFL’s Tuesday trade deadline.

[…]

Buzbee also said in his interview with Fox 26 that Watson’s team appeared willing to settle a portion of the 22 civil cases.

“First it was, ‘We need to get 22 cases settled’ and then it was, ‘Well, maybe we can get 20 cases settled,’ and, finally, there was some discussion of maybe even less than that,” Buzbee said. “But based on the terms that were submitted to us, we weren’t going to get 22 settlements. Period.”

See here and here for the background. We assumed there were settlement talks happening, the possibility of a trade was predicated on there being a settlement, and now we have confirmation. I don’t know that it would have served justice for such an agreement to be reached, especially if it came with a blanket NDA on all of the accusers, but that’s not my call. I don’t know if there’s any impetus for settlement talks to continue now – beyond what would normally be there, anyway – so we may not hear much else for awhile. Watson can’t be deposed until February at the earliest, and a trial date (if it comes to that) can’t be set until early May. So we’ll see.

Deshaun Watson not traded

He’s still with the Texans at least though the end of the year.

If quarterback Deshaun Watson had been able to settle the 22 civil lawsuits before the NFL’s trade deadline on Tuesday, he would be leaving Houston for Miami, his preferred destination.

Because Watson was unable to reach settlements, he’ll still be on the Texans’ roster rather than playing for the Dolphins. The next time teams can make trades is when the new league year begins in March.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores have coveted Watson for months. The Texans thought they had a deal almost two weeks ago, but Ross insisted that Watson settle the civil suits accusing him of sexual assault and misconduct, according to sources familiar with the trade negotiations.

Watson, who has a no-trade clause in the four-year, $156 million contract he signed in September of 2020, told the Texans months ago he would not accept a trade to any team other than Miami. It’s known that he rejected a possible trade to Philadelphia.

Sources said Watson didn’t want to reach financial agreements with his accusers because he thought it would be an admission of guilt, but as the deadline approached and Miami’s interest intensified, he relented.

The sources said when Watson agreed to settlement discussions late last week, there wasn’t enough time for his attorney, Rustin Hardin, and Tony Buzbee, who represents the plaintiffs, to reach agreements with all 22 accusers.

See here for the background. I don’t care much about that, but I am interested in this.

The most recognizable of 22 women who accused Watson of unwanted sexual contact, [Ashley] Solis said she has endured death threats, an unexplained break-in and a stream of fake epithet-ridden web reviews of her business since she sued earlier this year.

Solis, 28, is the only plaintiff who agreed to be photographed and named publicly. She is also among 10 women who spoke with NFL investigators, answering every question they posed, said Tony Buzbee, the lawyer who represents the women in civil suits against the Texans quarterback.

Solis recalled that her NFL interview several months ago seemed brief — about an hour — and included questions that surprised her, including one about what clothing she was wearing. She hasn’t heard back.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he still can’t make the call on Watson’s culpability. He told NFL owners last week, “We don’t think we have the necessary information to place him on the exempt list.”

[…]

Solis said she met with a woman from the sexual assault division at the NFL sometime before June.

“It just overall wasn’t a great experience,” Solis said. “She said, ‘Tell me how he assaulted you. What did he do? What did it feel like?’”

Solis said she didn’t feel there was empathy in the encounter.

“She asked me what I was wearing.”

They said they’d get back to her. She hasn’t heard anything since.

Her family and friends support her, but she said she’s had minimal support from the public. She likened herself to a piñata that keeps getting beaten and beaten at a party.

“It’s been very, very stressful.”

“I’ve had a series of events take place from people creating fake accounts to slander my business, writing fake Google reviews, to finding me on my business social media and giving me death threats and wishing terrible, terrible things on me,” she said. “I’ve had a break-in at my studio a few days after I went public. I’ve had strangers approach me telling me to stop lying.”

Solis has no qualms about seeking compensation because the Watson incident has decreased the number of clients she can see and she is now undergoing therapy.

Solis said she has no choice but to continue with body work, she said, noting, “I don’t have (a) degree in anything else.”

She no longer accepts new male clients unless someone can vouch for them.

I don’t know what will happen here. Maybe Ashley Solis will accept a settlement offer, and maybe that will help her get at least the financial part of her life back on track. Maybe people will think Deshaun Watson is guilty if his alleged victims agree to settlements, and maybe we’ll all have forgotten about it the next time he does something cool on the football field. I find I care much more about Ashley Solis’ future than I do Deshaun Watson’s.

A brief meditation on the Deshaun Watson situation

Let us pause for a moment and contemplate this John McClain column about the likely football fate for the Texans’ soon-to-be-former star quarterback.

Deadlines have a way of initiating action, and if the Texans are going to ship quarterback Deshaun Watson to Miami or another team, they better do it by the NFL’s trade deadline on Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.

If Watson is still on the roster after the deadline passes, the Texans will have to wait until the start of the new league year in March to reopen negotiations on a trade that probably wouldn’t happen until close to the draft that begins April 28.

[…]

Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross has approved a Watson trade, but he wants his legal issues resolved. The only way for Watson to do that before the trade deadline would be to settle the 22 civil suits. League sources say Watson doesn’t want to settle his cases because he believes it would be an admission of guilt.

Before a deal can be completed, Ross would have to find out from commissioner Roger Goodell if Watson would be suspended under the personal conduct policy, and if so, how many games he would miss.

[…]

At the league meetings on Tuesday, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, told reporters that, in the event of a trade, it would be up to Goodell to decide if Watson would be available to play for his new team right away.

“We don’t think we have the necessary information to place him on the exempt list,” Goodell said. “We don’t have all the access to that information and (we) pride ourselves on not interfering with it. That process is ongoing.”

Watson could be suspended, or he could be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. Watson is being paid his $10.54 million base salary to report to the Texans each day and be inactive on game days. The exempt list is a paid vacation for the player, who can’t be part of the team and has to work out on his own.

If Goodell didn’t place Watson on the exempt list at the start of the Texans’ training camp, it’s unlikely he would do it after a trade.

Emphasis mine. The main takeaway here, for those who don’t care about the football angle, is that we may get a sudden and almost certainly confidential resolution to this whole sordid mess. There are some criminal complaints and an FBI investigation as well, but the former at least could be dropped as part of a settlement agreement. There will be some loud protest in Miami or Charlotte or wherever Watson gets traded, if that does happen, and it will fade away over time as we get distracted by more pressing matters. And then that will probably be that. I don’t know exactly how I feel about all this, but it’s not a good feeling. The Ringer and Rivers McCown have more.

(The fact that the Texans will undoubtedly screw up the draft picks they’ll get in the trade because they’re a terrible organization with a shitheel owner is a side matter.)

Plaintiff in Constable Precinct 1 lawsuit responds

She’s not having it with the dismissal of Constable Alan Rosen as a defendant from the lawsuit.

Constable Alan Rosen

The booze-fueled undercover hotel operations were bad. Felecia McKinney’s worst moment at the Precinct 1 Constable’s Office, however, came two years ago, during an undercover sting at a Massage Heights near the Texas Medical Center.

Another Precinct 1 employee had been assaulted at the business. Her bosses wanted her to pose as a customer, wait to see if he acted again, and then give a signal to bust him and take him down.

When she emerged from the spa, a superior told her to drive herself to the hospital to get a sexual assault examination while Constable Alan Rosen held a celebratory news conference in the business’ parking lot, she said at a press conference Friday.

[…]

After the spa sting, McKinney and Erica Davis — the Precinct 1 employee whose assault led to the investigation of Massage Heights — sued the establishment, saying the budget spa chain, its employee, owner and franchisor were negligent in training and supervision. Davis agreed to a monetary settlement in the case but McKinney’s complaint is still pending. Criminal charges against Wenjin Zhu, the massage therapist accused of sexually assaulting Davis and McKinney on the massage table two days apart, are also still pending. Zhu is detained in the county jail.

Though her lawyers have described her experience in court filings, McKinney had never addressed the public about her sexual assault in August 2019 until her brief remarks to reporters at her attorney’s office Friday morning.

“He knows what happened to me,” McKinney said of Rosen. “He intended it. He ordered it. And to hear him claim victory — and that he wouldn’t be held personally accountable for something he’s admitted to doing makes me feel attacked, unheard, and very alone.”

What angered her the most, she said, was reading comments from Rosen’s defenders that the constable should never have been included in the lawsuit in the first place.

“This case was never about money for me. It was about exposing the truth and holding people accountable,” she said, her voice catching. “When I read his comments and his attorney’s comments, I felt really victimized in ways I never expected. …When I saw the claim that he never should have been in the lawsuit, after ordering an operation that I go in to be sexually assaulted, I broke down.”

See here for the previous entry. I don’t know if the decision to remove Rosen as a defendant was a good one or not – I presume it can be appealed, but regardless of that the lawsuit itself if still ongoing. The allegations still refer to things that happened under Constable Rosen’s watch. I’m still far from convinced that any of the undercover actions were a good use of law enforcement resources, whether or not the deputies in question were put in needless danger. I don’t know what will come of this case, but we need to hear what Ms. McKinney and her fellow plaintiffs have to say.

Constable Rosen removed from sexual harassment lawsuit

Good news for him, but the suit continues.

Constable Alan Rosen

Harris County Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has prevailed in a legal effort to be removed from a lawsuit accusing department supervisors of sexual misconduct against female subordinates in an undercover anti-prostitution unit.

In a five-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt on Monday ruled Rosen could not be personally sued for the misconduct allegations that several current and former deputies and another employee had made about conduct within the unit. Plaintiffs can continue to pursue their lawsuit against Harris County and Assistant Chief Deputy Chris Gore and Lt. Shane Rigdon, the judge ruled.

Hoyt explained his ruling by saying he’d concluded that the plaintiffs’ allegations against Gore and Rigdon were “enough to raise a right to relief” but that the plaintiffs had not made any claims that would support Rosen’s individual liability under civil rights law.

Rosen touted the ruling in a news release in which he said he had “full faith in the Court’s review” of the motion.

“I thank the court for its considered review of the law as it pertains the motion to dismiss me from this matter,” he said, “and for granting that dismissal such that my full focus can remain on the needs of the residents of Precinct 1.”

Lawyers for the female deputies said they were undeterred, pointing to Hoyt’s decision to allow the suit to proceed against Harris County and against Gore and Rigdon.

“While Alan Rosen has been able to protect his personal financial interests, his conduct is still very much a part of the lawsuit,” attorneys Cordt Akers and Bill Ogden said, in a written statement.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. You can see a copy of the ruling in the story. While this is good news for Constable Rosen personally, the lawsuit is still active – this was a motion to dismiss, and it was denied for the other two defendants. For that reason, ignore this:

Rosen attorney Ben Hall said Wednesday that his client “should never have been in the lawsuit in the first place.”

He said believed Rosen was added to the lawsuit to tarnish his political viability.

“I think the fact the judge dispensed (with this matter) so quickly will at least remove this stain,” Hall said, “So he can move down the road. And if it is his fate to be sheriff, I think he’d be a fabulous sheriff.”

Sorry, but this still happened on his watch. He may not be legally liable for damages, but he’s still responsible. Maybe if the remaining defendants are cleared we can talk about his future ambitions, but until then let’s cool our jets. This is far from over.

FBI involved in Deshaun Watson case

Never a good sign, though there might be a wrinkle in this one.

The FBI is looking into sexual assault allegations against Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, according to opposing legal parties in the player’s civil court cases.

The extent of those probes remains unclear. Defense attorney Rusty Hardin on Wednesday declined to call any federal interest in the sexual assault allegations part of an “investigation,” but he said he knows definitively that one FBI investigation is underway into claims that a woman extorted Watson for money.

The high-profile defense attorney held a 20-minute news conference in direct response to recent statements by his opponent, Tony Buzbee, who said that he spoke to representatives of the federal agency.

Buzbee told the website League of Justice that the FBI appeared interested in Watson’s alleged use of the internet and interstate travel to solicit sessions from massage therapists.

Hardin said he learned Tuesday that the FBI was checking into some claims presented in the 22 civil suits filed earlier this year against Watson. He said he welcomes those federal investigations, but he simultaneously denounced Buzbee for bringing them to the media.

“He wants to leverage his civil lawsuits,” Hardin said. “He knows those lawsuits have no future in the long run. But he wants to be out there and promote himself and the lawsuits and try to get Deshaun to settle them and pay him money so he can ride into the sunset.”

Buzbee, who is representing the women suing the 25-year-old for sexual assault and harassment, denied that any of his clients were being investigated.

“I think Rusty is reaching for straws and that’s kind of silly,” Buzbee said. “God bless him, the FBI, is, not as far as I know, is not investigating the women who have been victimized. They’re investigating Deshaun Watson.”

Buzbee later clarified that he does not know whether there is an official “investigation” into Watson, but that he did speak with federal agents.

[…]

Hardin on Wednesday focused on claims that one of those women extorted Watson for money before filing a lawsuit alleging he forced oral sex. He read text messages that appeared to show the woman apologizing for her own behavior during a session.

The attorney said the FBI approached his team in April about those allegations, and Watson later spoke to the bureau about them.

Buzbee said he detected irony in Hardin’s statements about his client.

“He’s doing the best he can do, but it’s kind of sad that he’s turning it around on the women,” he said.

Hard to know what to make of this. I’m loathe to believe any claim Tony Buzbee makes, but I’d say he’s more likely to be right about what the FBI is doing than Rusty Hardin is in this case. But who knows? The FBI said nothing as per their usual policy, and whatever it is they may be doing, they’ll be done when they’re done. So we wait.