Deshaun Watson Settles 20 Lawsuits Accusing Him of Sexual Misconduct

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The lawyer for the 24 women announced the agreements but did not disclose details. The plaintiffs had accused Watson of coercive behavior and sexual misconduct during massages.

Deshaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns quarterback, has reached settlements with 20 of the 24 women who have filed sexual misconduct lawsuits against him, the lawyer Tony Buzbee announced Tuesday morning. In a statement, Buzbee, who represents Watson’s accusers, said that the terms and amounts of the settlements were confidential and that those cases would be dismissed once finalized.

Reached by phone, Watson’s lawyer, Rusty Hardin, said he had no comment but did not deny settlements had been reached.

The first public allegation against Watson of sexual misconduct during a massage appointment was made in March 2021, resulting in an avalanche of lawsuits filed by additional women. Buzbee said that Ashley Solis, who filed the initial lawsuit, was one of the four women who had not settled.

The claims against Watson involved massage appointments he had in 2020 and early 2021, when he played for the Houston Texans. He was traded to Cleveland in March after a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, declined to indict him on criminal charges. The Browns gave Watson an unprecedented, fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract.

But Watson has faced additional pressure in recent weeks, with two new women filing lawsuits against him. Buzbee also said that he planned to add the Texans as a defendant after a New York Times investigation showed that the team provided the venue Watson used for some of the massage appointments and furnished him with a nondisclosure agreement. Buzbee said Tuesday that the Texans were not a party to the settlements.

Watson and his accusers had previously entered into settlement negotiations before the N.F.L. trade deadline last November. According to Hardin, one interested team, the Miami Dolphins, would not move forward with a potential trade until all the civil suits against Watson were resolved. In a recent court filing, Buzbee said that Watson’s representatives offered each woman $100,000 to settle but not all of the women agreed because of what he characterized as an “aggressive nondisclosure agreement.”

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Asked in a news conference during Browns minicamp last week if he was open to settling the civil cases, Watson said he wanted to “clear my name and be able to let the facts and the legal procedures continue to play out.” He also said again that he had “never forced” anyone into sexual activity. Through his lawyers, Watson acknowledged having sexual contact with three of the women who sued him but claimed it was consensual and initiated by the women after the massage ended.

The settlements come as the N.F.L. is considering discipline for Watson under its personal conduct policy. League investigators spent four days interviewing Watson within the last five weeks, Hardin has said, which is generally one of the final steps in the process. The N.F.L. spokesman Brian McCarthy said that the settlements had “no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process.”

Yi-Chin Lee/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press

Buzbee referred to Solis as “one of the heroes of this story.” In her lawsuit, Solis said that Watson purposely touched her hand with his exposed and erect penis during a March 2020 massage appointment. Watson admitted in a deposition that Solis had become “teary-eyed,” and after he left, he apologized over text for her feeling “uncomfortable.” Solis reached out to industry colleagues as well as lawyers for advice on how to respond to what had happened, and in December 2020, she was connected with Buzbee’s law firm.

“Without Ashley Solis, the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered,” Buzbee said in his statement. He added that he looks forward to trying the cases of Solis and the three other women who have not settled “in due course.”

The Times’s investigation showed that Watson engaged in more questionable behavior than was previously known, extending beyond the claims made by the 24 women who filed lawsuits: He booked appointments with at least 66 different women in 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.

The Times’s reporting also found that in the two months leading up to the Harris County grand jury’s considering of the cases against Watson, Hardin began a regular dialogue with Johna Stallings, the sex crimes prosecutor handling the investigation. In January, Stallings came to Hardin’s office for a meeting in which Hardin said he and his team “made a presentation reflecting the deposition testimony and evidence relating to each of the criminal complainants.”

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