More than 20 civil lawsuits have been filed against Deshaun Watson accusing the Texans quarterback of inappropriate conduct and sexual assault.
Houston attorney Tony Buzbee filed the first three lawsuits on March 16 and 17 related to separate incidents involving accusations from multiple massage therapists. Buzbee wrote in one of the lawsuits that Watson’s behavior is part of a “disturbing pattern of preying on vulnerable women,” per ESPN’s Sarah Barshop.
The lawsuits have all been filed by women who accuse Watson of sexual misconduct ranging from inappropriate touching to forced oral sex.
Here is what we know so far about those lawsuits and how Watson and the NFL have responded to the accusations.
What to know about lawsuits against Deshaun Watson
(UPDATE: One of the original lawsuits filed against Watson was dropped, leaving the total at 22, but the plaintiff “reserves the right to refile this case” once concerns about privacy and security are addressed. Ten women have also filed police complaints against Watson; eight of those 10 women are among the 22 plaintiffs who have filed civil lawsuits.)
Lawsuits 1 and 2
The first two lawsuits were filed by Buzbee in Harris County, Texas. The first lawsuit stems from an incident that allegedly occurred at a massage therapist’s home in March 2020, and the second lawsuit stems from an incident that allegedly took place at The Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa in August 2020. The plaintiffs in both of those lawsuits are female massage therapists who filed as Jane Doe.
Both lawsuits allege that Watson committed civil assault by exposing himself and touching the plaintiffs with his penis. Both lawsuits also say the plaintiffs grew “uncomfortable” during the massages, and the women abruptly ended their sessions after Watson acted inappropriately. They did not respond to any additional attempts at communication from Watson, who initially set up the meetings via Instagram direct messages, per the lawsuits.
“It became apparent that Watson wanted a massage for only one reason — sex,” the first lawsuit states.
Watson allegedly told the plaintiff involved in the March 2020 incident: “I know you have a career and a reputation, and I know you would hate for someone to mess with yours, just like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.” She considered Watson’s remark to be a threat, per the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are seeking compensatory damages in order to “prevent Watson from further like conduct.”
The third lawsuit stems from an incident that allegedly occurred at a Houston office building in December 2020. The plaintiff in the lawsuit filed as Jane Doe.
While the third lawsuit alleges a similar pattern of behavior toward the massage therapist, it also says Watson “got more aggressive, forcefully telling her to move her hand down to his pubic area.” The lawsuit claims Watson forced the woman, who felt “intimidated and threatened,” to perform oral sex on him and that she “did not consent.”
“Plaintiff wishes she could have been more courageous and would have ended the massage,” the lawsuit states. “But she felt helpless in the moment. Plaintiff was under Watson’s control.”
Four more civil lawsuits were filed against Watson on March 19, bringing the total to seven. Three of the four lawsuits allege Watson made inappropriate contact with women during massage sessions, per Barshop. The fourth claims Watson tried to kiss a woman against her will.
Seven more civil lawsuits were filed on March 22, including one that accuses Watson of sexually assaulting a woman in March 2021 — the most recent allegation to date. The alleged incidents included in the seven lawsuits range from April 2020 to March 2021.
“Plaintiff believes Watson to be a serial predator,” the 14th lawsuit states.
Lawsuits 15 and 16 were filed on March 23, alleging behavior similar to what was described by other plaintiffs. Three more lawsuits were then filed on March 28, alleging Watson “purposely” touched women with his penis.
One of those lawsuits states Watson had been “deleting Instagram messages and contacting those who formally provided him massages, in an attempt to settle.” Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, denied that Watson had “reached out directly to his accusers in an attempt to settle these cases” and said Watson had not deleted any Instagram messages since March 15.
Lawsuits 20 and 21
Two more lawsuits were filed on March 30, including one that alleged Watson groped a massage therapist, coerced her into oral sex and ejaculated on her, per Barshop.
After those two lawsuits were filed, Hardin released statements from 18 women saying that Watson “never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage.”
Deshaun Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin has now issued a press release with what he says are 18 massage therapists who support Watson. Here is a sample: pic.twitter.com/MAKPKEsVJm
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) March 31, 2021
Lawsuit 22 was filed on April 2, alleging Watson “assaulted and harassed plaintiff by touching her with his penis and exposing himself.” The lawsuit also claims that Watson used “more than 50 different women for massages” in a short time frame.
A 22nd civil lawsuit has been filed against Deshaun Watson and alleged he “used more than fifty different women for massages.” pic.twitter.com/Pc2PLtjt7d
— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) April 5, 2021
Barshop reported that Hardin was granted two motions April 8 for hearings to determine whether Buzbee should be ordered to disclose the accusers’ identities. The hearings took place April 9, with judges ruling that 13 of the identities must be disclosed.
“Mr. Buzbee’s use of anonymous lawsuits violates Texas law and the basic concept of fairness,” Hardin said in a statement. Hardin wrote in one court filing that knowing the women’s identities is “the only way” Watson can “properly defend himself.”
Lawsuit 23 was filed April 14, a day after Hardin told reporters that one of the initial 22 suits had been dropped. Pro Football Talk, citing the Houston Chronicle’s reporting, noted that the plaintiff in the latest suit is a Houston makeup artist who is alleging that Watson sexually assaulted and harassed her during massage sessions in September 2020 and November 2020.
The woman is also alleging that Watson asked her to touch his penis and that he groped and tried to kiss her.
Another lawsuit was filed by Tony Buzbee against Deshaun Watson on Wednesday afternoon. It is the 23nd lawsuit filed. One of the first 22 was dropped this week. pic.twitter.com/HTaiu5XoXl
— Sarah Barshop (@sarahbarshop) April 14, 2021
Who is Tony Buzbee?
Buzbee is a Houston-based lawyer of The Buzbee Law Firm. He is a former Marine officer and attended the law school at the University of Houston Law Center, according to his bio on The Buzbee Law Firm site. He has represented a number of high-profile clients, including former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
He has also previously run for public office, most recently launching an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Houston in 2019 against incumbent Sylvester Turner.
During a March 19 news conference, Buzbee told reporters that he had been in contact with the Houston Police Department, and he noted that none of the women he is representing met with the police prior to speaking with him. However, the Houston Police Department issued a statement through its official Twitter account on March 19 saying that it was “unaware of any contact between HPD and Houston attorney Tony Buzbee.”
At this time, HPD is unaware of any contact between HPD and Houston attorney Tony Buzbee regarding the allegations contained in his recently filed lawsuits and no incident reports regarding these allegations have been filed in our jurisdiction.
— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) March 19, 2021
In a March 30 Instagram post, Buzbee said that he no longer plans to work with the Houston Police Department.
“Our team has been roundly criticized because these numerous brave women haven’t filed formal criminal complaints with HPD (although we have provided info to other organizations),” Buzzbee said. “Here is my worry: When I ran for Houston mayor against the current mayor, I called for the resignation of the former police chief. I was thus reluctant initially in these important cases to provide info to HPD, at least while Art Acevedo was the Police Chief — even though my brother in law is a long-term HPD officer. Mr. Acevedo has now left Houston for Miami.
“Yet, I’ve since learned that my legal opponent, Mr. Hardin, has a son who is on of the exclusive Command Staff of HPD. I am not saying in any way that Deshaun Watson’s lawyer, Mr. Hardin, has a son who has a position that would compromise HPD and its investigation. I support his service, along with all Houston police officers — I think the rank and file know that. But, I am saying that me and my clients will go elsewhere to provide our evidence to investigative authorities.”
On April 2, Houston police announced on Twitter that a complaint against Watson had been filed and the department was investigating. HPD’s full statement:
“Today, a complainant filed a report with the Houston Police Department concerning Deshaun Watson. As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process.”
Buzbee told The Washington Post on April 14 that three of Watson’s accusers had recently spoken with Houston police; the Post reported that those women make at least five who have been in contact with local law enforcement.
What has Deshaun Watson said?
Watson posted the following statement to Twitter on March 16:
As a result of a social media post by a publicity-seeking plaintiff’s lawyer, I recently became aware of a lawsuit that has apparently been filed against me. I have not yet seen the complaint, but I know this: I have never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect. The plaintiff’s lawyer claims that this isn’t about money, but before filing suit he made a baseless six-figure settlement demand, which I quickly rejected. Unlike him, this isn’t about money for me — it’s about clearing my name, and I look forward to doing that.
Hardin told ESPN that he spoke with Watson on March 17 and agreed to represent him.
“I’m real comfortable with the kind of person that Deshaun Watson is, and I don’t like to publicly comment until I get all the facts,” Hardin said, adding that Watson “has a great reputation here in the Houston area, and the allegations are really inconsistent with the kind of person he is.”
Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, shared his thoughts on the lawsuits in a tweet posted on March 19:
Sexual assault is real. Victims should be heard, offenders prosecuted.
Individuals fabricate stories in pursuit of financial gain often. Their victims should be heard, and those offenders also prosecuted.
I simply hope we keep this same energy with the truth.
— David Mulugheta (@DavidMulugheta) March 19, 2021
Hardin released a more detailed statement to TMZ Sports on March 23:
“I want to emphasize at the outset that we and Deshaun recognize that sexual assault and harassment are not only unlawful, but morally wrong. It takes courage for women to come forward to report being mistreated, particularly when they attach their names to a lawsuit. We do not take these allegations lightly. However, fairness to the accused is equally as important.
“Opposing counsel has orchestrated a circus-like atmosphere by using social media to publicize 14 ‘Jane Doe’ lawsuits during the past seven days in a manner calculated to inflame the public and malign Deshaun’s otherwise sterling reputation. In addition, the tactic of refusing our requests to confidentially provide the names of the plaintiffs so we can fully investigate their claims makes uncovering the truth extremely difficult. Anonymity is often necessary as a shield for victims but opposing counsel has used it as a sword to publicly humiliate Deshaun before the truth‑seeking process can even begin.
“I believe that any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false. And in the one case in which we have been able to identify a plaintiff, we have strong evidence showing the allegation is false. In January of this year, a woman attempted to blackmail Deshaun by demanding $30,000 in exchange for her ‘indefinite silence’ about what she stated was a consensual encounter. It is our belief this woman is the plaintiff in Cause No. 2021-15613. This calls into question the legitimacy of the other cases as well.
“We have received numerous unsolicited comments in the past week from many licensed massage therapists who have worked with Deshaun in recent years. These women describe him as a gentleman and a model client who never engaged in inappropriate conduct. Indeed, before these salacious claims, everyone who associated with Deshaun described him as an outstanding, respectful and compassionate man.
“Again, we are taking the allegations very seriously but we ask only that people not rush to judgment, that people not be unduly influenced by opposing counsel’s antics, and that they let fundamental fairness to both sides rule the day. Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
Hardin filed a response to the 22 civil lawsuits on April 19, claiming that Watson’s legal team had “uncovered evidence that numerous allegations in this onslaught of cases are simply not true or accurate.”
Are the Texans, NFL investigating Deshaun Watson?
The Texans released the following statement on March 17:
We became aware of a civil lawsuit involving Deshaun Watson through a social media post last night. This is the first time we heard of the matter, and we hope to learn more soon. We take accusations of this nature that involve anyone within the Houston Texans organization seriously. We will await further information before making any additional statements on this incident.
Pro Football Talk reported March 19 that Lisa Friel, the NFL’s special counsel for investigations, wrote Buzbee a letter telling him the league has begun an investigation. She requested that Buzbee and his clients cooperate with it.
Buzbee posted, then deleted, and then reposted the letter on his Instagram page. He eventually wrote that his side “will cooperate with the NFL’s investigation and with any other investigative authorities.”
An anonymous league official told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the league is investigating Watson under its personal conduct policy. The Texans said in a second statement on March 19 that they would “stay in close contact” with the league during the investigation, per Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle.
Additionally, teams that may be interested in potentially trading for Watson are monitoring the situation, according to Schefter. The NFL has not yet suspended Watson or placed him on the commissioner’s exempt list, so he is still eligible to play during the 2021 season.