Why the Deshaun Watson legal drama might be far from over despite settlements
After all the drama surrounding the Browns QB over the past 15 months, he still has four pending lawsuits.
HOUSTON — A Houston police detective who investigated sexual misconduct allegations against Deshaun Watson recently gave her opinion of the women who filed criminal complaints against the Cleveland Browns quarterback.
There were 10 of them, but one stood out, according to the detective, Kamesha Baker.
“Do you want to know which ones I thought were stronger or strongest?” Baker asked during a recent pretrial deposition related to the civil lawsuits against Watson.
“Sure,” said Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin.
“So the strongest suit to me was Ashley Solis,” Baker replied, according to a transcript of her testimony obtained by USA TODAY Sports
Solis was the first of the 24 women to sue Watson and accuse him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. She also is now one of only four plaintiffs remaining against Watson after the other 20 reached confidential settlements to end their lawsuits against him, according to the women’s attorney, Tony Buzbee.
After all the drama surrounding Watson over the past 15 months, that means it’s far from over for him, even if the settlements make his caseload more manageable for his attorneys. The Solis case and others will proceed to trial, led again by the plaintiff who started it all and said Watson exposed himself to her and purposely touched her hand with his penis after contacting her on Instagram and bringing his own small towel to her home in March 2020.
Solis has become an outspoken public face for these women and could make it difficult for Watson to put these allegations behind him, especially if it goes to trial after the coming NFL season. Her case also is backed by at least two pieces of circumstantial evidence:
► A text message from Watson apologizing to her after she said she abruptly ended the session and started crying.
“Sorry about you feeling uncomfortable,” he wrote. “Never were the intentions. Lmk if you want to work in the future. My apologies.”
► An admission by Watson in a recent pretrial deposition that Solis was “teary-eyed” with eyes “watering” at the end of the massage, though he said he didn’t know why. He took pains in his deposition testimony May 13 to parse whether Solis was actually crying or just had tears in her eyes for some reason.
“I don't know, it was just watery eyes,” he testified in a deposition about Solis May 13. “She wasn't like crying or balling or anything like that. It was watery eyes. And I was confused on what was going on.”
Watson, 26, had denied wrongdoing in this case and others. Baker, the detective, found the text message to be key evidence.
“Ashley Solis actually had a text message after the massage that indicated there was some questionable activity there in which we thought, 'Okay, well, why would you text this if everything was fine?' ” Baker testified. “If everything was fine in the massage, why would you send her essentially an apology for the massage?”
The law office of Solis' attorney is only about eight city blocks away from the office of Watson's attorney here in downtown Houston, each a short walk from Minute Maid Park. The two sides met in the middle somewhere on most of these cases, but not with Solis and three others.
Buzbee made a point of that Tuesday in a statement, saying "her story and that of the other three brave women will continue."
It's not clear yet why Solis wasn't among those who settled their lawsuits against Watson. She didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.
One attorney who has represented other NFL players in league disciplinary proceedings said he wondered whether Solis is a "samurai client," meaning she might be a warrior for her case.
"She may not care about money and may want this to go to trial," said the attorney, Daniel Moskowitz, who is not involved in this case. "A trial is going to be open. Things will get out, and yeah, it could be very damaging."
The NFL conducted its own investigation of the allegations against Watson and soon could suspend him. But four pending cases means four chances for more information to come to light, keeping these matters in the public eye and possibly leading other women to come forward, much like what happened after HBO aired an interview with Solis in May.
After that HBO interview, another woman sued Watson, saying she was "struck by the courage of the victims willing to step forward."
"This could lead to another investigation even after they punish him the first time," Moskowitz said.
Detective Baker said after investigating the 10 complaints, she believed Watson had committed crimes, including indecent assault against Solis. But it was not her decision whether to charge him with a crime. That instead was decided by two grand juries in the Houston area that declined to indict him on criminal charges. Baker testified in one of those proceedings but not in front of the Harris County grand jury that declined to indict Watson in nine other cases, including Solis’s.
It’s not clear why Baker wasn’t called to testify in the latter proceeding. Grand jury proceedings are conducted under secrecy. Solis did testify in that proceeding and was the only complainant to testify there despite the others being ready and willing to do so, according to Buzbee, her attorney.
In the HBO interview, Solis was asked why the grand jury in Harris County declined to indict Watson.
"I have absolutely no idea," Solis said. "I don’t see how any of those human beings could have sat there in front of me and think what he did was OK."
Solis, a licensed massage therapist, filed suit in March 2021, setting off the storm. Watson ended up sitting out the season in 2021 and in March 2022 was traded from the Houston Texans to the Browns, which gave him a record guaranteed contract of $230 million over five years.
Solis also addressed that contract in the HBO interview.
“It’s just like a big screw you,” she said. “That's what it feels like. That we don't care. He can run and throw, and that's what we care about.”
Hardin declined comment this week. Buzbee's statement Tuesday about the settlements mentioned Solis five times and noted the whole saga with Watson started with one phone call from her to his law firm. He said her actions as the first plaintiff emboldened the others to come forward after her.
“Without Ashley Solis, the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered,” Buzbee said in part of the statement. “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.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org