Examining the Legal Issues Around Deshaun Watson

Looking at the lawsuits and legal issues facing Deshaun Watson

The legal situation around Deshaun Watson has continued to unravel as more allegations about inappropriate sexual conduct have emerged. At the time of this article, Watson has 13 civil lawsuits pending against him in Harris County District Court in Texas. All of the alleged victims have the same lawyer and he has stated that there are more suits waiting to be filed and more women coming forward with similar complaints. Here is where the situation stands.

THE CIVIL SUITS

As already noted, the avalanche of cases is starting to pile up against Watson. Seven cases were filed between March 16th and March 18th. Subsequently, six more cases were filed on March 22nd. All of the cases are suing for “minimal compensatory damages” but are also seeking punitive damages. The difference is that compensatory damages are for actual loss suffered from the incident like an injury or lost wages. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of compensatory damages noted in the suit. Punitive damages are used to punish the defendant by awarding a dollar amount based on the damage suffered by the Plaintiff.

All of the cases allege the same conduct for purposes of civil recovery – Assault and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Two of the suits also alleged forcible attempts at oral sex, which resulted in an additional claim of Sexual Assault.

THE DETAILS

There are a lot of similarities between the cases that should be noted. A few of those are:

  • Twelve of the 13 cases involved use of Instagram Direct Messages as the primary form of communication
  • All 13 suits carefully note that each of the women was a little unsure why Watson would want to use them when he has access to a full team of doctors and trainers through the Texans organization
  • All 13 suits contain the same language directed towards the NFL for being “notorious for a culture that fosters sexual harassment and sexual assault.” (Note: The NFL has not been named as a Defendant)
  • Watson allegedly brought his own “small towel” to cover himself and used that instead of the draping provided by the masseuse
  • Watson allegedly questioned almost every woman in advance as to whether or not they would be alone during the massage

The allegations contained in the suits are alleged violations of the following laws:

  • Texas Penal Code 22.01 – Assault
  • Texas Penal Code 22.012 – Indecent Assault
  • Texas Penal Code 42.07 – Harassment
  • Texas Penal Code 22.011 – Sexual Assault

The first three allegations are Misdemeanors and don’t carry significant penalties should they be considered for criminal charges. The fourth one, however, is a different story. Should Houston Police or Prosecutors become interested in that charge, it is a Felony of the Second degree and could become very serious for Watson.

COMMON QUESTIONS

Why would this case be filed in civil court and not criminal?

There are any number of explanations for this. From the victims’ attorney’s comments, it sounds as though these cases were never presented to law enforcement. There is no way to know why so it isn’t worth speculating. However, the thing to be aware of is that civil cases have a different burden of proof than criminal cases. There is a lower threshold to prove a civil case. The Houston Police Department has stated they will be looking into the allegations going forward.

Why would this behavior not be reported before now?

While that’s a question that needs to be asked, it is important not to equate a delay in the allegations to them being false. There is no connection between the truth of the allegations and their timing. Furthermore, the dates on these incidents are all within the past year. Laws have a statute of limitations for a reason and none of these allegations are outside the time limits.

Are there more cases coming?

It looks like there is. Nobody knows how many cases are going to be filed, but the publicly held knowledge currently is that there are more women who have come forward. It is very possible more cases will be filed.

Is Watson going to be suspended by the NFL?

There is no way of knowing that at this time, but it is best to consider it as a possible outcome. Eleven of the 13 suits that have been filed may not amount to much in the way of criminality, but two of the suits are troubling. The NFL does not require a conviction in a case in order for a player to be punished for it. Even if Watson escapes criminal charges the range of outcomes here certainly encompasses a possible suspension nevertheless.

WATSON AND FANTASY FOOTBALL

It is almost impossible to predict Watson’s future as a fantasy football quarterback at the end of March. Things often look completely different in June than they do in the offseason (just ask Tyreek Hill). It is best not to get too uneven when considering possible outcomes. The avalanche of filings, evidence, and the court of public opinion make it seem like Watson’s days are numbered. But he will hire competent counsel, fight back, and the case landscape will continue to shift. There is no reason to react immediately and dub Watson as a “buy” or a “sell” as the situation sits today. Things change often, and in fact, are changing so fast that things might even change before the ink is dry on this article.

There are a ton of moving parts to the legal cases Watson now faces. Extensive discovery will take place and corroborating evidence will be revealed. Often in sexual assault cases there is a noticeable lack of physical evidence. That means that this case, outside of circumstantial evidence, will turn on the testimony of the parties. Knowing how that will play out through a complicated series of Motions, Discovery, and Trial, is a fool’s errand.

But only a fool operates without the latest knowledge. Stay tuned for more developments.


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