HOUSTON — An attorney for 12 women claiming to be victims of sexual assault at the hands of Deshaun Watson said in a Friday news conference that his office has been “informally” contacted by the Houston Police Department and will be turning over information regarding the alleged incidents.
That claim came from Tony Buzbee – a Houston attorney representing at least 12 different women filing civil lawsuits against Watson – on the same day when Watson’s NFL agent, David Mulugheta, stated that victims of sexual assault and victims of fabricated stories should both be heard and have justice. Mulugheta’s tweet appeared aimed at Buzbee, who has been seeking alleged sexual assault victims while filing seven civil suits against Watson this week. Buzbee said another five suits will be filed in the coming days against Watson, while Mulugheta appeared to suggest an element of fabrication was amidst.
“Sexual assault is real,” Mulugheta tweeted. “Victims should be heard, offenders prosecuted. Individuals fabricate stories in pursuit of financial gain often. Their victims should be heard, and those offenders also prosecuted. I simply hope we keep this same energy with the truth.”
Watson's lawyer Rusty Hardin says detailed response is forthcoming
That’s the strongest statement made by Watson’s camp since the first of Buzbee’s seven suits were filed late Tuesday night, when Watson himself declared the move an attempt to extract a settlement and vowed to clear his name. Watson also retained high-profile Texas trial attorney Rusty Hardin.
“I’m extremely proud to represent Deshaun Watson and wholly stand behind him against what we believe are meritless allegations," Hardin said in a statement. "However, we will wait to comment in detail until we’ve completed our review of the numerous, evolving allegations from Mr. Buzbee. We will respond next week and ask you to keep an open mind until we do so.”
Through the first seven civil filings, the alleged incidents — one of which Buzbee says happened this month — described by the women varied in details but all shared an underlying theme of alleging that Watson reached out to book personal massage services and then sexualized the sessions in a way that included some degree of assault. One woman alleges Watson forced her to perform oral sex, while others describe being touched by his genitals. One states that Watson’s alleged behavior escalated to an attempted forcible kiss of a woman. Six of the first seven suits describe the encounters as one-time events, while a seventh describes being assaulted on two different occasions.
The suits all seek trial by jury and a period of discovery, as well as unspecified damages tied to the alleged mental and physical strain on the women stemming from the incidents.
Who are the alleged victims in lawsuits vs. Deshaun Watson?
While the identities of the alleged 12 victims have been withheld, Buzbee described the women as a diverse group of African American, Latina and white women, including some who are married or engaged. The attorney also noted that several are “single mothers” with small masseuse businesses. Buzbee said the dozen women did not know each other and also added that a total of 22 women have come forward to speak with his office about Watson but that as of Friday, the law firm was able to vet 12 and file suits. Buzbee said the firm was continuing a dialogue with the remaining 10, with decisions about potential filings involving those women to follow.
Buzbee said Friday that he had been contacted by NFL investigators but not the Texans. He also said that he does not believe any of the women attempted to file charges against Watson in relation to the incidents, but that he was contacted by a member of the Houston Police Department in an informal manner and planned to turn over information related to the cases.
Sources from the Houston Police Department and Harris County District Attorney’s office each said that there are currently no open investigations or pending charges against Watson, although a source from the HPD said that an investigation could be opened depending on the willingness of Buzbee’s clients to speak with authorities about pursuing charges.
Asked about the alleged victims having previously sought out police involvement, Buzbee responded, “Not that I know of. That’s going to be our next step.”
“I’ve only been reached out to informally by an individual with the Houston Police Department that I’m familiar with, Buzbee said. “I wouldn’t say a friend, but certainly somebody I know. Our intention is to put together a package and send it to the police department. … We’re going to get all the [civil] lawsuits on file first, put together a package, submit it to the police department. We’re not sure — not every victim may want to come forward.”
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