Over 20 women have filed civil assault lawsuits against the quarterback anonymously, but Tuesday two of the complainants gave emotional statements describing sexual abuse.
Ashley Solis became a massage therapist to heal people’s minds and bodies, but after what she said happened to her in March 2020, she can no longer do what she loves without shaking. Her hands tremble when she places them on clients, forcing her to cut sessions short. She suffers from panic attacks, anxiety and depression.
Until Tuesday, Solis had been known as Jane Doe, the first of 22 women who have accused the Houston Texans’ star quarterback Deshaun Watson of assault and sexual misconduct in civil lawsuits. She became the first of the women to identify herself, stifling back tears as she accused Watson of behavior during a session on March 30, 2020 — moving his body to expose his penis, then touching her hand with it — that mortified and embarrassed her, sending her into a “tailspin” from which she said she has yet to recover.
“I was afraid,” said Solis, who took several long pauses to compose herself as she read from a statement at a news conference Tuesday at the office of her lawyer, Tony Buzbee, who is representing all 22 women. “I’m not afraid anymore. I’m here to take back the power and take back control. I’m a survivor of assault and harassment. Deshaun Watson is my assaulter and my harasser.”
She added, “People say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false. I come forward so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman.”
Watson has not commented publicly since the night of March 16, when the first lawsuit was filed. He said in a post on Twitter that he had “never treated any woman with anything other than the utmost respect” and that he had rejected “a baseless six-figure settlement demand” made by Buzbee before the first suit was filed.
Another of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits, Lauren Baxley, also came forward Tuesday but did not attend the news conference held at Buzbee’s office in downtown Houston. She instead provided a letter she addressed to Watson that was read by one of Buzbee’s associates. Baxley echoed, in graphic terms, the pattern of lewd and coercive conduct he has been accused of and condemned him for being “nothing more than a predator with power.”
“Every boundary from professional and therapeutic to sexual and degrading, you crossed or attempted to cross,” Baxley said.
In her letter, which she said she wrote at the suggestion of her trauma therapist, Baxley said she was motivated not only to forgive herself for not speaking up sooner or for not being braver, but so that “you can know without excuse or justification that you have deeply and irreversibly brought terror to me and others.”
Taken together, the two statements provided the most emotional declarations yet in the case against one of the N.F.L.’s best and most prominent players, who had become a fixture in the Houston community since he joined the Texans in 2017. By attaching faces and names to the flurry of civil court filings, the women appeared to counter some of the arguments made by Watson’s defense lawyers, who have pushed back against the legitimacy of the allegations made against Watson because they had been done so anonymously.
After Tuesday’s news conference, Rusty Hardin, a lawyer representing Watson, took aim at the claims by Buzbee and Solis. Hardin released a series of emails that suggested that Buzbee “sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit.” All of the accusers, according to the lawsuits, have filed claims seeking “minimal compensatory damages.”
In one email from February, Scott Gaffield, general counsel at Athletes First, the agency that represents Watson, rebuffed Buzbee’s demand on behalf of Solis for $100,000 because “we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong …”
In addition to the 22 civil claims, the case against Watson widened last week when the Houston Police Department acknowledged that it had begun investigating Watson after a complaint was filed against him. Buzbee said Tuesday that at least one other person had also filed a complaint against Watson with the police. It is unclear whether either person is also a plaintiff in the lawsuits filed against Watson in Harris County, Texas.
While nearly two dozen claims have been filed against Watson in less than one month, the legal machinations are only beginning. The cases are now assigned to several judges for review, but it is unclear when or if they will be consolidated, something that would streamline decisions on the anonymity of the accusers, any motions to dismiss, potential discovery and myriad other steps that might lead to trial.
Other factors may shape the contours of the case, including any potential developments in the investigations by the police and the N.F.L., which began its own inquiry and can suspend Watson while it looks into the allegations against him. Though the accusations have mounted in a short span of time, the legal proceedings are in very early stages, according to Stephanie Stradley, a lawyer in Houston who writes frequently about legal matters concerning the Texans and the N.F.L.
“If you were making a football analogy, the ball’s been kicked off and people are running down the field, but no one’s caught the ball yet,” she said. “These cases are hard enough as it is when the world isn’t watching. They can be kind of messy sorting out what the full facts are.”