Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a sexual assault survivor and is looking for help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or https://www.rainn.org
Deshaun Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, provided an update this week on the NFL’s ongoing investigation into the Browns quarterback for alleged sexual harassment and assault.
Appearing on the latest episode of the Audacy podcast Payne and Pendergast alongside Leah Graham, a fellow lawyer representing the quarterback, Hardin revealed that Watson’s meetings with the league’s investigation team were over after answering a question about the nature of the proceedings.
“I think now that it’s over I can say that he’s put himself through four days of questioning by very professional, polite, intense and prepared former sexual assault prosecutors and it’s like a interview,” he said. ” There are no rules. They were free to ask any question and we didn’t refuse to answer any questions.
Hardin’s update relates to meetings Watson had with NFL investigators in late May regarding the 22 pending civil lawsuits filed against him. That number has since risen to 23 after complainant Nia Smith filed a complaint earlier this week detailing the sexual harassment and assault she says she suffered from Watson in three different encounters in 2020.
While Hardin wouldn’t confirm whether or not the NFL has terminated the investigation, he suggested the QB and his legal team likely wouldn’t agree with its findings. “I’m fully prepared and always assumed we were probably going to disagree with the NFL’s conclusion,” said Hardin, who was interviewed after the 23rd lawsuit was filed. “On the other hand, I will say, without reservation, that they intentionally investigated.”
Hardin’s remarks come less than two weeks after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed on May 24 that the league’s investigation was nearing completion. Although Goodell declined to confirm a timeline for a decision on possible discipline, The MMQB Albert Breer reported a day before the NFL is expected to decide before the start of the 2022 season.
With Watson now facing 23 active civil lawsuits with a possible 24th on the horizon, the latest allegations shed more light on his ongoing tumultuous legal troubles. On Thursday, it was reported that Smith’s lawsuit included claims detailing Watson and his team tried to settle the cases before initial filings, as well as an indictment Watson offered each plaintiff $100,000, as well as a ” aggressive non-disclosure agreement”. Neither the Browns nor the NFL have released comment on the latest lawsuit.
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As Watson and his team eagerly await information on the NFL’s next steps, the entire Browns organization remains stuck in a state of uncertainty after making the risky decision to acquire the 2017 first-rounder in March. The Cleveland trade officially put an end to long-running rumors linking Watson to the Dolphins, who were reportedly the main team interested in trading for the former QB from the Texans last year.
Hardin confirmed during his interview that Watson and his team had two opportunities to settle much of the civil lawsuit, the second of which came around the time of the 2021 draft when Watson and Miami expressed mutual interest. Hardin said Dolphins owner Stephen Ross was willing to acquire Watson, who was in the midst of a criminal investigation at the time, but demanded the 22 lawsuits reach a settlement with each plaintiff signing a settlement agreement. non-disclosure.
“All of a sudden, Miami comes on the floor and says, ‘Look, we’re going to take our chances on what’s going to happen with the criminal,’ because at that time there was a criminal investigation going on,” a he declared. “Most teams weren’t willing to consider negotiating before and unless they knew what was going to happen in the criminal investigation and by then she was six months old and there was this uncertainty. Miami was an outlier.
Watson is not currently facing criminal charges following two separate grand jury hearings earlier this year. On March 11, a Harris County grand jury returned nine negative decisions on nine criminal complaints against Watson. A Harris County prosecutor said the decision ended criminal proceedings against him in that county and that Watson was traded soon after. A Brazoria County grand jury declined to indict Watson on a 10th count on March 24.
While it remains to be seen what the NFL will decide, Watson’s new contract with Cleveland protects him from significant financial penalties he could face with a possible suspension. Watson has a base salary of just $1 million for the ’22 campaign, and would lose just $55,556 for each potential game missed due to suspension.
The other active civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists detail graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault occurring during massage therapy sessions. Stories range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to ‘touching’ quarterback [a plaintiff] with his penis and trying to force her to perform oral sex on him. During his introductory press conference with the Browns, Watson denied assaulting, harassing or disrespecting a woman.
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