At the top of his game, Deshaun Watson had a multi-million dollar deal playing football for the Houston Texas. Now, his life is in limbo as two different types of courts and the NFL look into sexual misconduct accusations made against him by more than 20 women. How will the criminal, civil, or NFL league investigations affect his future?
What Is Deshaun Watson Accused of Doing?
Before March 2021, Deshaun Watson was mostly known for his work on the football field. The NFL quarterback had signed a four-year contract worth nearly $111 million with the Houston Texans. But, all of that changed when a line of women began acussing Watson of sexual misconduct.
What started as three civil suits against Watson eventually ballooned to 24 lawsuits. All of the civil lawsuits were filed in Harris County, Texas, and each alleged that Watson conducted varying levels of sexual misconduct. The lawsuits recount incidents said to have happened between March 2020 and March 2021, and two of the cases included claims of sexual assault.
According to The New York Times, “Watson was said in both cases to have pressured women to perform oral sex during massages and was accused in one of also having grabbed a woman’s buttocks and vagina. The civil suits alleged that Watson engaged in a pattern of lewd behavior with women hired to provide personal services, coercing them to touch him in a sexual manner, exposing himself to women he had hired for massages, or moving his body in ways that forced them to touch his penis.”
So, what do the allegations mean for Watson legally and professionally?
Potential Consequences in Civil Court
The 24 lawsuits against Watson were filed in civil court. As of June 21, 2022, Watson has settled 20 of the cases. The attorney representing the women, Tony Buzbee, issued a statement saying that the terms and amounts of the settlements were confidential and that those cases would be dismissed once finalized.
There are four remaining civil cases against Watson. The cases will either be settled outside of court like the other 20 cases or they could lead to a trial that could end with Watson paying financial damages if found guilty.
The 24 cases filed against Watson are in civil court, which means they carry no potential consequences related to jail time or fines. But the civil charges did spark a criminal investigation that could have led to those consequences.
Potential Consequences in Criminal Court
In April 2021, the Houston Police Department began investigating the allegations made against Watson. At that time, 21 civil lawsuits had been filed against him.
Almost a year later, in March 2022, a grand jury in Harris County declined to bring charges against Watson on any of nine criminal complaints. A second grand jury in Brazoria County, Texas, also declined to indict Watson on charges of sexual misconduct, as reported by The Athletic.
Watson never faced criminal charges related to the allegations, and at this time, he faces no potential criminal consequences.
Potential Consequences from the NFL
The allegations made against Watson put his career with the NFL in limbo. Shortly after the civil suits were filed, the NFL opened an investigation into Watson’s conduct in March 2021.
The investigation has been ongoing for over a year and, in that time, Watson was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March 2022.
The investigation led to a recent three-day NFL disciplinary hearing that will determine if Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson, the arbiter jointly appointed by the NFL and the players’ union, oversaw the hearing which wrapped up in late June 2022.
Robinson will determine what punishment, if any, Watson will face from the NFL. If Robinson finds that Watson was not in violation of the policy, the case will be closed with no consequence to Watson. If Robinson finds Watson in violation of the policy, he could be suspended from the league for a year.
Either side could appeal Robinson’s ruling. In that case, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or a person he chooses would make the final ruling, according to NFL.com. The ruling is expected to be delivered before the Browns start training camp on July 26, 2022.
Talk to an Experienced Civil and Criminal Attorney
In many cases, the lines between civil and criminal charges can blur together. If you are facing charges in either type of court, it is a serious matter. Talk to an attorney right away who can offer advice in both types of law. TJ Grimaldi has experience in both civil and criminal matters. Call 813-226-1023 or request your consultation today to talk to TJ about the details of your case.