Editor’s note: This story contains accounts of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org.
A new lawsuit has been filed against browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, making it the 23rd active civil filing.
The plaintiff, Nia Smith, was one of the first women contacted by the NFL star’s legal team when news broke about the first lawsuits being filed last year, according to the original petition filed on the Harris County District Clerk’s website. The lawsuit describes that “in an effort to intimidate her dela,” one of Watson’s lawyers said to the plaintiff “that they were going to fight the cases to the fullest extent. She also insisted that us Black women must stick together.”
The plaintiff was not one of the initial women to file a lawsuit against Watson, and according to the filing, his legal team tried to convince her to say positive things about Watson once they determined she was not one of the Jane Does.
According to the documents, HBO’s real sports segment on the quarterback changed her mind about filing a lawsuit, including Watson’s comment about having “no regrets.”
The plaintiff allegedly had three different encounters with Watson in 2020: on June 7, Aug. 24 and “in late August or early September.” The filing detailed how the quarterback’s “behavior grew worse during every massage.”
Similar to several of the other civil lawsuits, the plaintiff was contacted via Instagram, according to the lawsuit, and she had not worked with any Texans athletes before. She was 21 years old when the massages happened, and during the first massage on June 7, the quarterback “kept demanding Plaintiff to go inside of his anus dela,” according to the lawsuit.
He allegedly said, “Don’t be afraid to go inside,” which the plaintiff “was not going to do.”
The plaintiff reported what occurred to her boss, but according to the filing, Smith “was not offended and decided to give Watson the benefit of the doubt as she thought that maybe he was ashamed and embarrassed by this fetish.”
Watson contacted Smith again in August through text for another massage and allegedly said he did not want her boss to be present. Additionally, Watson allegedly requested for her to wear a sundress, which the states filing Smith ignored. Per the filing, his behavior escalated from the previous session, including grabbing Smith’s buttocks and repeatedly “asking Plaintiff if she wanted his penis in her mouth.” The petition also states that “she felt trapped.”
She decided after the second massage session, which she says she ended early, to avoid the quarterback; however, he returned for a third massage. According to the petition, she allegedly told Watson she would leave the room for him to undress and to go under the draping, but he refused, undressing in front of her.
“Plaintiff tried to massage his legs, Watson became aggressive and demanded that she only massage his buttocks and made her massage that area. He repeatedly requested that Plaintiff have sex with him, ”telling her that there was a condom in her bag, according to the petition. He proceeded to touch her between her legs, forcing her to massage from a distance away from him to avoid being groped. Following this incident, Smith quit her job, per the filing.
The petition highlighted that “A New U Salon Spa provided women for Watson. Dionne Louis, the owner of the spa, facilitated massages for Watson and knew Watson was attempting to have sex with them.” According to Cash App receipts and text messages included in the petition documents, “Watson paid Dionne Louis at least five thousand dollars for Louis’s ‘her work.’”
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Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, released the following statement, saying the quarterback “vehemently denies the allegations.” He added that “two highly respected lawyers from our firm, Letitia Quinones and Rachel Lewis, also vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved” when meeting with the plaintiff.
The Browns quarterback is facing 22 other active civil lawsuits filed by massage therapists, each detailing graphic accounts of sexual harassment and sexual assault that occurred during massage therapy sessions. The accounts range from Watson allegedly refusing to cover his genitals to the quarterback “touching [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 any woman.
Two plaintiffs, Ashley Solis and Kyla Hayes, gave their first national TV interviews with HBO’s Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel, which aired last Tuesday. In the interview with Soledad O’Brien, they both detailed their accounts with Watson. Additionally, one of Watson’s attorneys, Leah Graham, spoke with O’Brien.
At one point, O’Brien pointed out to Graham that Watson previously stated that he had “no regrets,” and then asked if it was still true.
“As he testified in his depositions last week, yes, he has no regrets because he did nothing wrong,” Graham said. “He did nothing wrong in these massages. And although—to your first question, ‘How can he be innocent?’ I think the real question is, ‘What evidence is there of any guilt?’”
Watson previously faced multiple criminal complaints; however, he is not facing charges following two separate grand jury hearings. On March 11, the Harris County grand jury returned nine “no” decisions on nine criminal complaints against Watson. The Harris County prosecutor said that the criminal decision proceedings against him in that county concluded, and Watson was traded shortly afterward. A grand jury in Brazoria County declined to charge Watson on a 10th count on March 24.
Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney, a video statement released prior to the airing interview, saying in part, “Nobody really wanted to deal much with the fact that two different grand juris found there were no criminal events. The grand jury decides probable cause—is there any basis for believing there was a crime committed, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor. And both of those grand juries found no probable cause to believe any crime at all was committed.
“That should have been given great sway because originally there were allegations, he used force against these women. It turns out only three of the 22 lawsuits involve any allegation of force, and then when subjected to investigation by law enforcement and presentation to a grand jury, it was found no force was used. There was no indication of a crime involving any type of force.”
Although the civil lawsuits are still ongoing, Cleveland traded for Watson in March and signed him to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million. Solis said in the interview that “it’s just like a big screw you. That’s what it feels like. That we don’t care. He can run and throw, and that’s what we care about.”
Hayes said she “felt like he’s being rewarded for bad behavior.”
As far as the league investigation, commissioner Roger Goodell revealed last Tuesday that the league is “nearing the end of the investigation” into Watson. However, no timeline was provided on when a ruling would be issued by the disciplinary officer.
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