HOUSTON (AP) — A grand jury on Friday declined to indict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson following a police investigation sparked by lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault and harassment.
The grand jury’s decision came about a year after the women first filed their suits, accusing Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will during massage appointments. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Houston police began investigating Watson in April 2021 after a criminal complaint was filed. The FBI also was reviewing the allegations.
Prosecutors presented evidence and testimony to the grand jury for over six hours on Friday related to nine criminal complaints against Watson, Johna Stallings, chief of the adult sex crimes and trafficking division with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said. She declined to say what possible charges were presented to the grand jury for consideration.
“We respect the grand jury's decision," Stallings said.
Stallings said that decision ended criminal proceedings related to Watson in Harris County, where Houston is located.
Watson’s lawyers have said “some sexual activity” happened during some of the massage appointments but that he never coerced anyone.
At a news conference outside his lawyer's office building, Watson said he was grateful for the grand jury’s decision.
“It’s definitely a very emotional moment for me. We’re far from being done handling what we need to handle on the legal side but today is definitely a big day and I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard ... I’m going to continue to just keep pushing forward and build my name back to where it was if not better," Watson said.
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, said that the NFL star “has not done a single thing wrong and this is the first step for that."
Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women, said the criminal case is separate from the civil cases and he will continue the process of questioning Watson as the lawsuits move toward trial. Earlier Friday, Buzbee questioned Watson during a deposition, the first the NFL star has given as part of the lawsuits.
“The civil cases will continue to gather steam. We take Mr. Watson's deposition again Tuesday. Respect the process," Buzbee said.
Eight of the women who sued Watson filed criminal complaints against him with Houston police and had been set to appear before the grand jury. Two other women who didn’t sue Watson also filed police complaints.
Watson's lawyers have sought to balance their defense of the NFL star while simultaneously condemning sexual violence against women. They have called the lawsuits a “money grab” and claimed that all 22 women who sued are lying — a strategy some experts and advocates say relies on long-used tropes designed to minimize such accusations. Buzbee has said some of his clients have faced criticism and even death threats.
Hardin said Friday that he always urged the women to file criminal complaints so they could be heard and police could investigate.
“We were vindicated in the sense that ...if law enforcement thoroughly looked at these matters, that we’d have the result we had today,” Hardin said.
Even before the lawsuits were filed in March 2021, Watson had asked to be traded. The trade request and the lawsuits kept Watson out all last season. The Texans were expected to try and trade Watson this offseason.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league is “closely monitoring all developments” and that matter “remains under review of the personal conduct policy.”
No trial date has been set for the lawsuits.
The deposition of Watson for the civil cases took place in the offices of Hardin's law firm, located about half a mile (0.8 km) away from the Harris County criminal courthouse in downtown Houston, where the grand jury met.
Watson invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during the deposition, Hardin said.
“No lawyer in America would let their client testify in a court case with the same matters being considered by a grand jury,” Hardin said.
With the criminal investigation over, “we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions" Hardin said.
Buzbee said that Watson’s refusal to answer his questions Friday only bolstered the women’s allegations.
“If he did nothing wrong, why not just say that?" Buzbee said.
Hardin said Buzbee’s only goal on Friday was to ask Watson “salacious questions" and release transcripts to the media to make him look bad.
Hardin and Buzbee are two of the best-known lawyers in Texas. Hardin is a civil and criminal defense attorney who represented ex-pitcher Roger Clemens when he was acquitted in 2012 of charges that he lied to Congress by denying he used performance-enhancing drugs. Buzbee represented former Texas Gov. Rick Perry in an abuse-of-power case and settled lawsuits for 10 teenagers who had accused Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 of paying them for sexual acts.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70