Deshaun Watson settles 20 civil lawsuits, faces NFL suspension

HOUSTON (AP) — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson’s decision to settle 20 of 24 civil sexual misconduct lawsuits may not deter the NFL from granting him a lengthy suspension, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Tuesday. of the league’s investigation.

Watson was charged by massage therapists of harassing, assaulting or touching them on dates while playing for the Houston Texans.

Houston attorney Tony Buzbee, who represents the 24 women, said in a statement Tuesday that once the paperwork is completed on the 20 settlements, “these particular cases will be dismissed.” He added that the terms of the settlements are “confidential” and that his legal team “will not comment further on the settlements or these matters.”

Watson is still facing discipline from the league, which conducted its own investigation into the 26-year-old’s behavior and is expected to make a decision before the Browns open training camp on July 27.

Following Buzbee’s announcement, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the agreements had “no impact on the collectively negotiated disciplinary process.”

Another league official told the AP “settling down doesn’t give someone a pass” and indicated a lengthy suspension remains in order. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is not complete.

NFL investigators questioned Watson in Houston for several days last month. They spoke with 11 of Watson’s accusers, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who said Buzbee refused to make more women available for interviews.

The league will present its findings to disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson, a former federal judge who will decide Watson’s sentence. This is the first case for Robinson, who was named jointly by the league and the NFL Players Association.

The Browns, who signed the three-time Pro Bowler to a fully guaranteed, five-year, $230 million contract in March, had no immediate comment on the settlements.

Watson denied any wrongdoing and vowed to clear his name. Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, did not immediately return an email or text seeking comment.

In March, two Texas Grand Juries declined to charge him for the criminal complaints arising from the allegations. After that, the Browns and several other teams sued Watson, with Cleveland convincing him to waive his no-trade clause and join a team with a strong roster.

The first 22 trials against Watson were filed in March and April 2021. The last two lawsuits were filed after HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” aired an interview last month with two of the women who detailed their encounters with Watson.

Settlements also come after the New York Times reported earlier this month that Watson booked massage appointments with at least 66 different women over 17 months while playing for the Texans. The report said a representative for the Texans provided Watson with a nondisclosure agreement that he gave some of the women to sign.

Last week, Watson reiterated his innocence and avoided any questions about whether he would agree to settle down with one of the women.

“I’ve never assaulted anyone,” Watson said. June 14 in his first public comments since being introduced by the Browns in March. “I never harassed anyone or disrespected anyone. I never forced anyone to do anything.

Buzbee said he plans to take all four unsettled lawsuits to court, including the first filed by Ashley Solis, who has already made her name public.. In an interview with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” Solis said she felt threatened by Watson after their massage session when he told her she had a career to protect and “I know that you don’t want anyone messing with it like I don’t want anyone messing with mine.

Buzbee said that without Solis, “the conduct experienced by these women would likely have continued unfettered.”

“The truth is, without his courage and willingness to come forward, the NFL would not be considering discipline right now; there would be no review of how teams might knowingly or unknowingly activate certain behaviors,” Buzbee said.

Cleveland, which spent nearly two decades searching for a franchise quarterback, sued and signed Watson despite his complex legal situation.

Owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam knew the Browns would face heavy criticism for the move, but were comfortable with the decision after conducting their own investigation and meeting with Watson privately.

Now the team is eager to find out how long they could be without Watson. The Browns have signed veteran replacement Jacoby Brissett, who will fill the starting job if Watson is suspended.

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Maaddi reported from Tampa, Florida. AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

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