Exclusive: Prosecutors Likely Presenting Deshaun Watson Case to A Grand Jury in January, Attorney Says
The sports world is waiting to find out the football fate of Houston Texans star Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been sidelined by the team this season in the wake of twenty-two various allegations of sexual assault or harassment.
While depositions move forward on the civil side, with at least two accusers being deposed already, the criminal side of things has been quiet. So far there have been no proceedings or charges. All that could change within the next few weeks. Tony Buzbee, the plaintiffs attorney representing twenty-two women in their civil lawsuits against the NFL quarterback told League of Justice on Monday that local prosecutors have begun meeting with some of the women, as recently as last week to secure potential interviews for the Grand Jury.
According to Buzbee, prosecutors have met with two women so far and asked whether those women would be willing to answer questions from Grand Jurors, if it is requested. Both women have alleged that Watson touched them with his genitals and both have reportedly agreed to make themselves available to a Grand Jury, if requested. Buzbee said the prosecutors are in the process of scheduling a meeting with four more of his clients.
One of Watson’s accusers was allegedly told by prosecutors that they will be bringing the case to a Grand Jury in Houston “possibly in December but more likely in January.” The prosecutors also reportedly told the woman that they are waiting on additional evidence from their investigators, according to Buzbee, which could account for the delay. The prosecutors met with one of Watson’s accusers last Friday and lawyers were not allowed in the room. “I think they are taking it to a Grand Jury. I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Buzbee told League of Justice Founder Amy Dash.
The prosecutors on the case are the District Chief of the Sex Crimes Division and the District Chief of the Juvenile Sex Crimes Division, according to what Buzbee was told. When asked why the Chief of Juvenile crimes would be involved, Buzbee said he did not know. So far there have been no allegations of sexual assault or harassment from anyone who is underage that have been made public.
The prosecutors have reportedly not decided yet which cases will be brought before the Grand Jury, and whether it will be many or just one, said Buzbee.
“I’ve always assumed that’s what would happen,” said Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin when reached by phone Monday and told about the reported impending proceeding. “That’s what a grand jury investigation is about, so there’s nothing about that, that is surprising, if it’s true. I don’t know anything personally about it. I welcome it. That’s what I’ve always assumed would happen.”
Hardin said ordinarily, Watson would get a chance to testify before a Grand Jury but he hasn’t gotten a suggestion from a prosecutor yet and those kinds of things “are up to them and the Grand Jury.”
When asked if he was prepared to defend Watson against any formal criminal charges, Hardin said:
“Oh absolutely, but that’s assuming that they return any type of indictment.” Hardin is referring to the fact that after it hears all of the evidence from prosecutors, the Grand Jury will vote on whether or not to indict Watson, which means: recommend charges be brought.
“So the way it stands now is they are getting their information together, they are talking to witnesses which is a normal process. They decide what witnesses to call,” said Hardin who called the process unfolding now “standard.”
“I’ve always welcomed any third party listening to both sides,” Hardin said. “I’m perfectly happy with it. Obviously, We strongly believe he didn’t do anything wrong and we’ll continue to defend him to every extent humanly possible.”
If a Grand Jury does decide to indict Watson in January, it means he would almost definitely be placed by the NFL on the Commissioner’s Exempt List until the matter is resolved. The Commissioner’s Exempt List grants paid leave to players. Generally, a resolution with prosecutors could take a matter of months through a plea deal or in the alternative take more than a year if no deal is offered or worked out. This means Watson could be sitting out for the entire 2022 season, if charges are brought. Oftentimes, players who are formally charged are released by their teams but not always.
Presently, ten women have filed complaints with the Houston Police Department and many of them participated in recorded interviews. Those interviews are in the possession of prosecutors and may be presented to a Grand Jury, at the prosecutors’ option.
Buzbee said the FBI has reviewed those videos as well but he has not heard from the feds since we reported back in August that the feds had become involved in some sort of investigation surrounding the Watson matter. The nature of that alleged federal investigation is unclear. The FBI will neither confirm nor deny its existence and Watson’s attorney, who admitted that the FBI had contacted him, said that the feds were investigating an extortion attempt on Deshaun by one of his accusers.
“I find it ridiculous that Rusty Hardin suggested that anybody was investigating these plaintiffs. He knew it was bullsh**, I knew it was bullish**, everybody knew it was bullish**. I thought that was pretty sad,” Buzbee said, referring to Hardin’s allegation that the FBI was investigating one of his clients.
“These women aren’t gonna be bullied,” said Buzbee. “It’s offensive to me. From the very beginning they [Watson’s attorneys] thought, ‘oh we will force these women to disclose their names and then they’ll run away and hide.’ Well they didn’t run away and hide.”
Buzbee said trying to brow beat the women in the deposition isn’t gonna work. “There’s gonna be some brow beating but it ain’t gonna be Rusty Hardin doing it,” Buzbee said, who claims he plans to depose Deshaun Watson for 44 hours over the course of several days and use every minute of the time allotted to him to question the NFL star.
“The FBI stuff is a non-stuff. It always was,” Hardin told League of Justice. “Tony created that. The FBI looked into stuff and they don’t ever tell you when they are not gonna do anything, but I never believed that would lead anywhere.” Hardin thinks the federal investigation is dead in the water but hasn’t been told anything, and admitted that is just his opinion.
Both Hardin and Buzbee say there have been no settlement talks since the trade deadline passed. Buzbee said there was a lot of moving parts and a flurry of activity in lead up to the trade deadline to try to achieve a settlement.
Initially, Watson’s camp wanted all twenty-two women to sign non-disclosure agreements as part of the deal, but some women said “I’m never gonna do it.”
“The money wasn’t the problem, the NDA was what killed the deal,” said Buzbee who said the terms of each deal were different but the contingency that all women sign an NDA led to the talks falling apart. Buzbee said initially Watson’s camp wanted all twenty-two women to sign NDAs, then were willing to settle for twenty of them signing and then eighteen and then the deadline passed and the talks ceased.
Reached by phone Monday, Hardin also confirmed that the talks ended after the trade deadline passed.
“All that went out the door when the trade deadline passed so no, there are no settlement talks going on.”
Buzbee would not disclose how much money was being discussed during settlement talks because he doesn’t want to prejudice himself moving forward, meaning there could be more settlement talks in the future. However, Buzbee said he is not in the process right now of “hustling a settlement.” Rather he is in the process of trying to get a date on the calendar to take Deshaun Watson’s deposition. He said he may have to ask the court to intervene to get Watson’s deposition scheduled, as well as the deposition of Watson’s close friend and trainer Quincy Avery. Buzbee said Avery sent a text message to one of his clients asking for her Instagram handle to allegedly prove to Watson’s girlfriend that she was an actual massage therapist. It’s unclear whether Watson’s girlfriend actually asked Avery for that info or he used that as an excuse to get the IG handle for himself or Watson. Buzbee will be asking him about it in a deposition as the text message is now evidence in the case.
Meanwhile, the NFL has said it does not have enough information to be able to determine whether to put Watson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List or not. The team is choosing not to play him, while waiting for the League to complete its own investigation. Typically the NFL will wait for any criminal investigations to conclude before making its own determination so it does not interfere with parallel investigations.
If a Grand Jury hears the case in January, it will vote on whether to recommend charges. Prosecutors will then decide what charges to bring, if any. In the event criminal charges are brought, Watson’s attorneys would likely apply to a Judge for a “stay” to place a hold on the twenty-two civil lawsuits until a criminal case is resolved.
In terms of the NFL, its policy is to immediately place a player on the Commissioner’s Exempt List once a formal charge is brought for a violent allegation such as sexual assault or domestic violence, until there is a resolution in the case. It provides paid leave. Anyone who is charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
League of Justice reached out to the District Attorney’s office handling the case, and it said the following: “We do not comment on grand jury matters or potential grand jury matters, and that includes discussing when/ if anything is being presented to grand jurors for consideration. “