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Tony Buzbee sues Texans, alleged they 'enabled' Deshaun Watson

The Texans have been added as a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed Monday morning by plaintiffs' attorney, Tony Buzbee.

Buzbee had previously announced that he intended to sue the Texans, alleging that they enabled former quarterback Deshaun Watson's behavior -- a pattern of alleged sexual misconduct -- by obtaining a Houstonian hotel and spa membership and giving him a nondisclosure agreement.

"Today, we filed the first case of what will likely be many against the Houston Texans related to Deshaun Watson's behavior," Buzbee said in a statement. "Suffice it to say, the overwhelming evidence collected indicating that the Houston Texans enabled Watson's behavior is incredibly damning. We believe the Texans knew or most certainly should have known of Watson's conduct. Beyond that, we believe the filing speaks for itself."

The Texans issued a statement after the lawsuit was filed: “We are aware of the lawsuit filed against us today. Since March 2021, we have fully supported and complied with law enforcement and the various investigations. We will continue to take the necessary steps to address the allegations against our organization.”

Watson requested and received an NDA from the Texans after one of the women accusing him of misconduct posted his personal information on social media, including his cell phone number, threatened to expose him, and called him an expletive.

The lawsuit includes a deposition from head athletic trainer Roland Ramirez stating that the team provided the Houstonian membership for Watson.

"The fact that the room was provided by the Texans cloaked Watson's conduct with a veil of undeserved credibility," the lawsuit stated.

In another excerpt from Ramirez's deposition, it stated that Watson requested a massage table and the team allowed him to borrow one and it was returned.

"That was the only strange thing, I would say," Ramirez said of Watson borrowing a table, adding: 'We've always recommended that our players use the people we know and trust."

As for the NDA, Watson stated in his deposition he obtained it from head of security Brent Naccara.

"Previously at the end of October/early November, someone released all my information from my number to my Cash App to all the things that I want private," Watson stated. "They put it out on social media, and I was getting bombarded with Cash App and text messages and all types of stuff, so I had to change that."

The lawsuit stated that Watson used the NDA "to be more careful" in massage therapy sessions with outside vendors. The lawsuit alleges that the Texans removed a social media post from Nia Smith, one of the women who sued Watson who threatened to expose Watson's alleged sexual misconduct, according to a deposition from Detective Kamesha Baker who investigated the Watson case for the Houston Police Department.

"Brent Naccara got it removed from Instagram," Baker said in her deposition. "He is the security for the Texans. I interviewed him and he told me that. He said based on what she said because it had Mr. Watson's personal information out there in the world. And so he was able to get it scrubbed from the Internet."

The lawsuit includes direct messages from Watson and alleges the Watson failed to prevent Watson from "assault and harassing Plaintiff, negligently hiring, supervising and retaining Deshaun Watson, negligently controlling Watson, failing to properly supervise Watson, failing to create or enforce policies to prevent misconduct, failing to take precautions prior to the massages to prevent a recurrence of Watson's known prior conduct toward massage therapists, failing to warn Plaintiff of Watson's proclivities and his past conduct, failing to take affirmative steps during the massage to control his unusual sexual proclivities, providing Watson a safe haven so that he could continue his conduct, providing Watson a NDA to protect Watson from his conduct, providing Watson a room where he engaged in illicit behavior, removing from the Internet and covering up information that would have exposed Watson and warned other massage therapists to avoid Watson, failing to investigate Watson's unusual behavior, turning a blind eye to indications that Watson was seeking sex rather than legitimate massage therapy, failing to investigate complaints where it was acceptable for Watson and others on the team to seek sexual contact with massage therapists."

The lawsuit requests damages and requests a jury trial.

Meanwhile, Watson, facing potentially significant punishment from the NFL under its personal conduct policy, is disciplinary hearing Tuesday before jointly appointed disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson that begins Tuesday, according to league sources.

Watson, represented by Houston attorney Rusty Hardin and NFL Players Association outside counsel Jeffrey L. Kessler, is facing a potential one-year suspension, if not an indefinite one, according to sources. He is being investigated by NFL senior vice president and special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel, a former Manhattan, NY, chief sex crimes prosecutor.

Robinson, a former Delaware district judge who's now a practicing attorney, is expected to issue a ruling in advance of training camp. One source predicted the ruling could come as soon as within one week after the hearing is completed. This marks Robinson's first hearing involving NFL discipline and the first case heard under a revised personal conduct policy under the new collective bargaining agreement negotiated two years ago.

The NFL and the players' union have previously attempted to strike a compromise on a settlement of a proposed punishment of Watson, but sources emphasized that they never came close to a deal. The reasoning from the league behind a potential indefinite suspension, as the NFL imposed in the Michael Vick dog fighting scandal or Ray Rice's domestic violence case, would be to give them flexibility to potentially impose further discipline in case other allegations of misconduct surface. Although no DNA, audio, or video evidence exists in the cases, according to multiple sources, the NFL will use text messages, depositions, and interviews to make its argument.

Under NFL rules governing personal conduct policy matters, Watson has the right to appeal to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The appeal could also be heard by another appointed officer.

Watson's legal team will argue that he should receive little to no discipline under the NFL collective bargaining agreement based on the light discipline imposed previously against NFL owners Robert Kraft, Daniel Snyder, and Jerry Jones for allegations of sexual misconduct. Watson reached a confidential settlement of 20 of 24 lawsuits that alleged sexual misconduct, sexual assault, or other inappropriate behavior with female massage therapists.

When the settlement was reached, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email that the settlement wouldn't affect the ongoing league investigation, writing, "Today's development has no impact on the collectively bargained disciplinary process."

Watson was not charged by two Texas grand juries. He has maintained his innocence throughout the legal process.

There are still four active lawsuits, including Ashley Solis, the first woman to accuse Watson of inappropriate conduct, after Watson's attorney announced that 20 of the cases were settled earlier this week.

"Today I announce that all cases against Deshaun Watson, with the exception of four, have settled," Buzbee said in a statement on June 24. "We are working through the paperwork related to those settlements. Once we have done so, those particular cases will be dismissed. The terms and amounts of the settlements are confidential. We won't comment further on the settlements or those cases."

Buzbee intends to continue advocating for Solis and other plaintiffs.

"The cases against Deshaun Watson started with one phone call from one brave and strong woman," Buzbee stated. "That woman was Ashley Solis. At the time of that call, she was just one of the hundreds of calls seeking legal assistance that our firm gets weekly. Even though she was originally turned away by our screening process, my staff insisted that I personally speak with her. I'm glad she persisted.

"Once we took a second look, and after having contact with Watson's original lawyer, who disrespected Ashley and her profession and who arrogantly minimized the conduct of someone he referred to as an 'asset,' I was convinced that our law firm should try to help her.

"As a result of Ashley's lone but brave voice, soon many women who had allegedly experienced the same conduct were emboldened to step forward. I am incredibly proud to represent them all. They have endured vile criticism and fanatical ignorance. They faced withering cross-examination by skilled litigators and stood firm. They are warriors all.

"Today, we have an important announcement about these cases, but it is important to point out that, without Ashley Solis, the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered. 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."

During the Browns' minicamp, Watson spoke to reporters for the first time since his introductory press conference.

"Like I said, I never assaulted anyone," Watson said. "I never harassed anyone or never disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything. I've been honest, and I've been truthful about my stance. I never forced anyone. I never assaulted anyone.

"That's what I've been saying from the beginning, and I'm going to continue to do that until all of the facts come out. On the legal side, I have to just go with the process of my legal team and the court of law."

Watson has met several times in Houston with Friel.

"I met with the NFL a couple of weeks ago and did everything they asked me to do," Watson said. "I answered every question truthfully that the NFL asked me, I spent hours with the people that they brought down, and that's all I can do, be honest and tell them exactly what happened. I know they have a job, and I have to respect that, so that's exactly what we wanted to do. We wanted to cooperate, and they have to make a decision that's best for the league."

Daniel Moskowitz, a criminal and civil lawyer with an extensive history of representing players in NFL personal-conduct policy and other matters governed by the collective bargaining agreement, said that the settlements in this high-profile legal matter don't come as a surprise.

"Settlement shouldn't seem surprising," Moskowitz said. "Obviously, the claims and allegations command the highest seriousness. Yet, as often is the case in litigation, regardless of the validity of the claims alleged or a party's quest for justice, a settlement is reached due to certain optics and initially seemingly secondary factors that come to the forefront and facilitate a settlement. Here, despite Deshaun's proclaimed desire to clear his name, the prospect of prolonged, seemingly never-ending legal dispute clearly came into play for Deshaun's camp.

"The number of plaintiffs alone created logistical issues for the parties, which created a reality of years not months before this matter would have gone to trial. Tony Buzbee has the resources to go the distance. The prospect of protracted litigation was of no concern to Buzbee. At some point, resolution and the parties' personal desire to move forward means more than 'winning.'

"While many have commented that Deshaun and his camp need to brace for a punitive punishment from the NFL, one issue to consider/remember is the impact the #MeToo movement could have on all aspects of this matter. To be clear, this is not an attack on the merits and mission statement of #MeToo but to believe #MeToo wouldn't impact the outcome of this matter is arguably naïve.

"This case is a textbook example of what necessitated the founding/existence of #MeToo: ensuring justice for alleged sexual harassment victims. Yes, the truth matters, but given recent '#MeToo Backlash' -- notably, Johnny Depp's defamation trial -- one can anticipate the movement's leaders would focus their efforts on this matter."

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Deshaun Watson Press Conference

Photo: Getty Images


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