A Brazoria County grand jury in Texas is hearing a single criminal complaint against Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson with an allegation of sexual misconduct in a massage therapy session.
This isn’t a new complaint, and it stems from a 2020 massage therapy session and an allegation of inappropriate behavior. A courthouse official indicated that a decision will likely be made by Friday if the grand jury isn’t done convening by Thursday.
Previously, a Harris County grand jury declined to indict Watson on nine allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual assault from massage therapists. In a social media post and after the grand jury in Harris County declined to return any indictments, Watson denied all wrongdoing. His lawyer, Rusty Hardin, has acknowledged previously in a press conference that sexual acts happened that were consensual in nature. Watson is still facing 22 active civil lawsuits and gave a third deposition Tuesday.
“This is a year-old allegation,” Hardin said in a telephone interview. “We knew about it, the Browns knew about it. It is not something we were surprised by. Deshaun is going to be the Browns quarterback this year.”
Hardin said that this criminal complaint stems from a massage therapy session conducted in Pearland, a suburb of Houston. That is why the Houston Police Department office referred it to Brazoria County. The Brazoria County district attorney, per Hardin, waited until after the Harris County grand jury rendered its decision and then went forward with a separate criminal complaint.
Traded to the Browns last week, Watson signed a $230 million fully guaranteed contract for the largest total guaranteed deal in NFL history. Watson is currently at the Browns’ facility for a physical in advance of a possible press conference Friday.
Watson was pursued by the New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers before agreeing to terms and being traded to Cleveland.
On Sunday, the Browns issued a statement from owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
“We spent a tremendous amount of time exploring and investigating the opportunity to trade for Deshaun Watson,” the Haslams wrote. “We are acutely aware and empathetic to the highly personal sentiments expressed about this decision. Our team’s comprehensive evaluation process was of utmost importance due to the sensitive nature of his situation and the complex factors involved.
“He was humble, sincere, and candid. In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field. Those in-depth conversations, the extensive evaluation process, his dedication to being a great teammate and devotion to helping others within the NFL, within the community, and through his charitable initiatives provided the foundation for us to pursue Deshaun.”
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email that the personal conduct policy into Watson remains pending. If charged with a crime, Watson is expected to be placed on the commissioner’s exempt list and wouldn’t be eligible to play.
“Any transaction would have no effect on the NFL’s ongoing and comprehensive investigation of the serious allegations against Deshaun Watson,” McCarthy wrote. “Nor would it affect his status under the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Personal Conduct Policy. If the league’s investigation determines that Watson violated the Personal Conduct Policy, discipline may be imposed pursuant to the policy and the CBA.”
Johna Stallings, the chief of the sex crimes and human trafficking unit of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, announced that Watson would not be charged following the March 11 hearing. The grand jury deliberated about the accusations for six hours before rendering its decision.
Law enforcement sources have indicated multiple times that no DNA, video, or audio evidence had been found or submitted by police detectives who investigated the allegations against Watson, a former first-round draft pick from Clemson.
An emotional Watson, 26, reflected on the legal situation and expressed hope of relaunching his career and rebuilding his standing in the community. Watson hasn’t played football in a year, and he has been under intense scrutiny during that time.
“Definitely a very emotional moment for me,” Watson said. “I know we’re far from being done handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day. I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard. I thank everyone that was a part of this, of seeing and hearing both sides. That’s what my team wanted was to have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come down to what happened today and that’s what the grand jury decided.
“I’m going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. We’re going to continue on the legal side to handle what we need to handle, but also ready to get back on the field, been prepping for that and ready to go for that. I thank my family, all my close supporters that’s been behind me this past year, I thank my team for keeping me up this past year. I’m going to continue to keep pushing forward to build my name to where it was, if not better.”
Watson took the Fifth Amendment in his first deposition, invoking his right to not potentially incriminate himself.
“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Hardin said at the time of the Harris County grand jury decision. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses. Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.
“There were no crimes here but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a pay day. These cases have been the product of a lawyer maximizing his own personal publicity at the expense of others, including his own clients. It is time to let Deshaun move on.”
A Texas grand jury heard criminal complaints accusing Watson of sexual misconduct and returned nine “no bills” with no charges filed.
“After a Harris County grand jury was presented all the evidence and had the opportunity to hear from all witnesses, grand jurors declined to indict Deshaun Watson,” the Harris County District Attorney’s spokesman Dane Schiller said in a statement. “Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, so no information related to their inquiry may be disclosed.”
The closed proceedings began on March 11 at the courthouse, lasting several hours before Watson got the news.
“Keep the same energy,” Watson’s agent, David Mulugheta, wrote on social media.
A no bill, meaning no charges, meant that less than nine jurors of 12 jurors recommended charging him with a crime.
Watson remained on the Texans’ roster last season and was paid his $10.54 million salary. He was not placed on the commissioner’s exempt list but played in no games. Watson only practiced during a portion of training camp before he and general manager Nick Caserio reached an agreement that he would report to the Texans’ training facility for individual workouts with the strength and conditioning staff but not participate in practices and meetings.
Watson was eligible to play all season. It remains unclear if he will be punished by the NFL under a personal conduct policy investigation being conducted by Lisa Friel, a former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor.
Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.