HOUSTON (AP) — The names of 13 of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits accusing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault and harassment will be made public following court hearings Friday.
During two hearings, Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, asked that the names of the 13 women, who have sued under the name Jane Doe, be publicly identified so his client can “have a chance at properly defending himself.”
Tony Buzbee, the lawyer for the 22 women, argued against releasing their names, saying doing so could put their lives in danger. One of two accusers who made their names public during a news conference Tuesday has already received death threats, Buzbee said.
The 22 women accuse Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will while he got a massage. At least one woman has alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex. All of the women are either licensed massage therapists or worked in a spa or similar business.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Hardin said that during some of the massages “some sexual activity would have taken place” but that “never at any time under any circumstances did this young man ever engage in anything that was not mutually desired by the other party.”
During the first of Friday’s court hearings, state District Judge Dedra Davis ordered that the lawsuit of one woman be refiled within two days with her name on it.
At a second hearing related to lawsuits filed by 12 other women, Buzbee told state District Judge Rabeea Collier that nine of the women had agreed to make their names public. Collier then ordered the other three to refile their lawsuits with their names included.
Court records show Hardin has filed motions asking that the seven remaining women who have not revealed their names also make their identities public. Hardin said he and Buzbee later Friday agreed to make the name public in one of those cases.
In court, Hardin accused Buzbee of using press conferences and social media to make coordinated attacks against Watson that the quarterback’s legal team could not fight because they don’t know the women’s identities.
Hardin said he sympathizes with the online attacks the accusers have faced, but that Watson has also suffered consequences, as he has been repeatedly called a rapist on social media.
“Deshaun Watson is not responsible for third party crazies out there that abuse these women,” Hardin said.
Buzbee said the women already have been accused of not being real or doing this only for money and that such attacks would grow if their names were revealed. He suggested the women’s names could be released to Hardin and his legal team without being made public.
“There’s been all these allegations against these women just hurled at them and then on social media they’re threatened with their own lives,” Buzbee said.
Hardin has called the claims against Watson “meritless” and has alleged they were made following a failed attempt to blackmail his client for $30,000.
During Friday’s more than hourlong news conference, Hardin and his legal team described Watson as a humble, mild-mannered person who cried after learning about the accusations.
Buzbee has questioned why Watson used the social media site Instagram to get so many massages on his own when he had access to trainers and equipment through his team.
Hardin said it was not unusual for Watson to get up to 150 massages a year and that like other millennials, the quarterback spends a lot of time on Instagram and uses it to do business, including book massage appointments.
The Associated Press generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, but thefirst woman who sued, Ashley Solis, spoke publicly Tuesday. She says she now suffers from panic attacks, anxiety, depression and is no longer comfortable working as a massage therapist. The first lawsuit was filed on March 16 and the most recent one was filed Monday.
Houston police and the NFL have said they are investigating the allegations, and Nike has suspended its endorsement contract with Watson.
In a recent email to season ticket holders, Texans chairman Cal McNair, whose family owns the team, said the team takes “these allegations very seriously.”
Watson led the NFL in yards passing last season. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason, but he became unhappy with the direction of the team as Houston sunk to 4-12. Watson requested a trade in January.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70