Cleveland Browns superstar quarterback Dashaun Watson has reached a settlement in 20 of the 24 personal injury cases that were filed against him by various massage therapists between March 16, 2021 and June 6, 2022.
The four pending lawsuits may soon go to trial, despite two grand juries declining to indict Deshaun on any criminal charges.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the civil lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson, as well as the relationship between civil lawsuits and criminal complaints.
Who is Deshaun Watson?
Deshaun Watson is a starting quarterback in the National Football League (NFL). After winning a national championship while playing for Clemson University, he was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2017.
Following a phenomenal 2019 season with the Texans, in which Deshaun led his team to the playoffs, the Texans signed the quarterback to a four-year contract worth $177.5 million. However, Deshaun soon grew frustrated with the direction of the team and demanded a trade in 2021. The Texans did not want to trade Deshaun and the impasse caused Deshaun to sit out the entire 2021 season.
In March 2022, Deshaun was finally traded to the Cleveland Browns. Immediately following the trade, the Browns gave Deshaun a guaranteed $230 million contract—the most guaranteed money in league history.
24 civil lawsuits filed against Deshaun Watson
According to the New York Times, Deshaun Watson hired at least 66 massage therapists between the fall of 2019 and the spring of 2021 (many of whom he found on Instagram).
On March 16, 2021, Ashley Solis, one of the massage therapists who treated Deshaun, filed a civil lawsuit against him. The lawsuit accused Deshaun of assault, harassment, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress.
According to Ashley’s lawsuit, Deshaun exposed himself during the massage and touched her inappropriately. It quickly became apparent to Ashley that Deshaun “scheduled the massage for only one reason—sex." When Ashley refused to comply, Deshaun threatened to ruin her reputation.
Over the next 15 months, 23 additional massage therapists filed civil lawsuits against Deshaun. All of the lawsuits accused Deshaun of civil assault, and two of the lawsuits accused Deshaun of sexual assault.
The specific accusations against Deshaun Watson are detailed in a lengthy New York Times report.
A civil assault is defined under Texas Penal Code 22.01(a) as:
- Intentionally or knowingly causing physical contact with another when the person knows or should reasonably believe that the other will regard the contact as offensive or provocative.
A sexual assault is defined under Texas Penal Code 22.011(a) as:
- Intentionally or knowingly:
- (a) causing the penetration of the anus or sexual organ of another person by any means, without that person's consent;
- (b) causing the penetration of the mouth of another person by the sexual organ of the actor, without that person's consent; or
- (c) causing the sexual organ of another person, without that person's consent, to contact or penetrate the mouth, anus, or sexual organ of another person.
All of the civil lawsuits filed against Deshaun were filed in Harris County, Texas. Although some of the incidents allegedly took place in Georgia, California, and Arizona, all of the lawsuits were filed in Harris County because that is where Deshaun lives and works.
Attorney Tony Buzbee represents all 24 plaintiffs. Tony Buzbee is a Houston plaintiffs attorney best known for his involvement in high-profile class-action cases, including the litigation following Hurricane Ike and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Deshaun Watson settles 20 of the 24 civil lawsuits against him
On June 21, 2022, Deshaun Watson reached settlements with 20 of the 24 plaintiffs.
The settlements are confidential.
A “confidential settlement agreement” is a provision in a settlement that prevents either party from discussing the nature of the settlement. Some or all of the terms may be kept confidential. Confidential settlements are common and usually (but not always) negotiated at the request of the defendant.
Tony Buzbee noted that Ashley Solis, the first woman to file a lawsuit against Deshaun and the first to speak publicly and identify herself as a plaintiff, is NOT one of the 20 women who settled.
“Ashley Solis is one of the heroes of this story,” said Tony Buzbee. “Her case has not settled and thus her story and that of the other three brave women will continue. I look forward to trying these cases in due course, consistent with other docket obligations and the court’s schedule.”
Criminal charges against Deshaun Watson
The Houston Police Department launched an investigation after a complaint was filed against Deshaun Watson on April 2, 2021.
In March, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, declined to bring charges against Deshaun. Two weeks later, another grand jury, in Brazoria County, Texas, declined to indict Watson.
In a grand jury proceeding, a prosecutor presents evidence and the grand jury (generally made up of 15-23 citizens) decides whether there is enough evidence to charge the suspect with a crime.
Prior to the grand jury proceedings, Deshaun’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, a former prosecutor, began a regular dialogue with Johna Stallings, the Harris County sex crimes prosecutor handing the investigation. In the two months leading up to the proceedings, the two met at Rusty Hardin’s office, spoke on the telephone 12 times, and exchanged more than two dozen text messages.
The amount of contact between the prosecutor and the defense is “noteworthy,” according to a former Harris County prosecutor.
In a statement, Hardin said it is “a standard practice” for lawyers to work directly with law enforcement and prosecutors.
What is the difference between a civil proceeding and a criminal proceeding?
When a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they are brought to a criminal court where the government, on behalf of the people of the United States, prosecutes the case. The goal of a criminal court is to punish criminals through fines or jail time.
When a person sues another person for damages, they do so in a civil court. The goal of a civil court is to compensate the plaintiff for any injuries they suffered as a result of the defendant’s actions or inactions.
A sexual assault case can be tried in a civil court even if no criminal charges are filed against the defendant. What’s more, because civil suits use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which is less stringent than the criminal “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, victims of sexual assault can recover civil damages even if the criminal court declares the defendant innocent of the crime.