A grand jury in Brazoria County in Texas declined on Thursday to bring sexual misconduct charges against Deshaun Watson, the former Houston Texans quarterback who was traded to the Cleveland Browns just days ago, district attorney Tom Selleck said in a statement.
A grand jury in Harris County, Texas, where Houston is, rejected nine criminal cases against Watson this month. But a 10th criminal complaint filed with the Houston Police Department described an alleged incident outside the jurisdiction of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office.
The case, in Brazoria County, south of Houston, was the last known criminal case pending against Watson. The complainant, who was a massage therapy student at the time, told the police that Watson ejaculated on her in a November 2020 massage appointment.
The publicly available police report was heavily redacted but said that the complainant told the police in April 2021 that Watson had “touched her with his penis and ejaculated causing semen to touch her arm and hand.” The police listed the offense under investigation as indecent assault, a class A misdemeanor in Texas punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
The complainant, whose name was redacted in the criminal complaint, is one of the 22 plaintiffs who are suing Watson in civil court for sexual misconduct during massage appointments.
Watson has denied all wrongdoing, and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has said that any sexual acts that occurred during massage appointments were consensual. After the grand jury in Harris County declined to bring charges on March 11, Hardin said in a statement that “the criminal investigations have been completed,” though he said in an interview Thursday that he had known all along that a case could be brought against Watson in Brazoria County.
“We are thrilled that the Brazoria County grand jury cleared Deshaun Watson of the one remaining criminal allegation,” Hardin said in a statement Tuesday. “We’ve known all along what people who learn the facts also know — Deshaun committed no crimes.”
Hardin said that Watson was deposed in this complainant’s civil suit on Tuesday, the day before the Brazoria County grand jury heard the criminal case. Watson had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid answering questions in the civil suits while criminal cases against him in Harris County were still pending. But Watson waived that right and has answered questions under oath for six of the civil cases, including the deposition on Tuesday, Hardin said.
Hardin said that once the criminal cases had been rejected by the Harris County grand jury, he was comfortable letting Watson answer questions for this complainant’s civil suit.
“It was just a practical decision,” Hardin said. “I knew what he was going to say so I took the position that I am willing to gamble my license on letting him testify on one case.”
Understand the NFL’s Recent Controversies
A wave of scrutiny. The most popular sports league in America is facing criticism and legal issues on several fronts, ranging from discrimination to athletes’ injuries. Here’s a look at some of the recent controversies confronting the NFL, its executives and teams:
Hardin said the Browns were aware that criminal charges could still be brought against Watson before they traded for him. A Browns and did not specify when the team was informed about the Brazoria County case.
NFL teams viewed the decision in Harris County as a green light to pursue Watson via trade, and the Browns gave Watson a guaranteed five-year, $230 million contract, a record for a guaranteed deal. The structure of the deal — with a 2022 base salary of only about $1 million — would mitigate Watson’s financial penalty for missing games if the NFL suspends him for a violation of its personal-conduct policy this season.
The Browns said in a statement on Sunday that they undertook a “comprehensive evaluation process” before trading for Watson and did “extensive” investigative, legal and reference work. The statement also acknowledged that “some legal proceedings” were continuing, but it was unclear whether that statement was referring to any criminal cases.
The NFL’s investigation into the against Watson is ongoing. A person who identified himself as a security representative for the NFL requested information from the Houston Police Department on March 15, including witness statements and phone records or social media messages, and also asked for interviews with the police investigators who worked the case, according to police records.
Before the deal with the Browns, Watson also met with the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints last week.