Deshaun Watson will not face criminal charges after grand jury declines to indict Texans QB

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A criminal grand jury in Texas has declined to indict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson after considering evidence of possible sexual misconduct against him in a hearing Friday – a development that dramatically reduces the trouble he had been facing for the past year.

The grand jury’s decision essentially means he won’t face criminal charges in this case unless the grand jury revisits it with new evidence. If he had been indicted by the grand jury, he’d be facing possible jail time and likely a more difficult path back to the NFL.

But now that he appears clear of criminal charges, his only court battles will be in defense of 22 civil lawsuits filed by women who accused him of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Those cases can be dragged out or resolved out of court, though he still faces possible discipline by the NFL.

“After a Harris County grand jury was presented all the evidence and had the opportunity to hear from all witnesses, grand jurors declined to indict Deshaun Watson," said Dane Schiller, spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. "Grand jury proceedings are secret by law, so no information related to their inquiry may be disclosed."

Texans QB Deshaun Watson

The women who filed civil lawsuits against Watson generally said he exposed himself or caused improper touching during these encounters, often after he initially contacted them on Instagram to get a massage.

Eight of these women were subpoenaed to testify in the grand jury hearing, according to their attorney, Tony Buzbee, though it’s not clear how many of them actually testified. The grand jury heard nine cases against him but declined to indict on each. Court records show that law enforcement had been investigating him for indecent assault, a misdemeanor that could bring up to a year in jail time.

Watson addressed reporters after the decision came out, calling it a "very emotional moment."

"I’m going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community," Watson said. "And we’re going to continue to, on the legal side, off the field, handle what we need to handle but also ready to get back on the field."

His attorney, Rusty Hardin, issued a statement.

"We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did: Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses."

The grand jury’s decision not to indict generally means that it didn’t find enough evidence that a crime was committed under the standard of probable cause. In Texas, criminal grand juries have 12 members and are led by prosecutors in secret proceedings, in this case the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. An indictment requires at least nine to vote in favor.

If he had been indicted, he likely would have pleaded not guilty as the case proceeded to a criminal trial.

“It's understandable that the prosecutor would present the case to a grand jury given the fact that there are so many accusations,” said Kenneth Williams, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. Williams said a grand jury’s decision can “depend on how aggressive the prosecutor presents the case.”

Watson, 26, has denied the accusations through Hardin, who said the woman were lying and out for money, and that any sexual acts that occurred were consensual.

The first civil lawsuit was filed in March 2021, setting off a flurry of cases that helped bring his NFL career to a standstill after he agreed to a four-year, $156 million contract in 2020 and then led the league in passing yards. He wasn't suspended by the NFL last year but did not play in the 2021 season as law enforcement investigated the allegations. Despite his desire to be traded to another team, his trade value also plummeted amid concerns about his legal situation.

The NFL has been investigating these allegations in the meantime.

"We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter which remains under review of the personal conduct policy," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday.

In a separate proceeding Friday, Watson was scheduled to sit for a deposition in two of the civil lawsuits for the first time, according to Buzbee. But Hardin had made clear he wanted Watson to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify against himself because anything he said in a civil proceeding could be used against him in the criminal case. That is what happened Friday: He declined to answer questions.

Buzbee confirmed that Friday and noted that the the criminal case is separate from the civil cases. He cited the O.J. Simpson cases as an example. Simpson, the former football star, was acquitted of double-murder charges by a criminal jury at trial but was found liable by a jury for wrongful deaths in a civil case afterward.

"The criminal case doesn’t impact the civil case result," Buzbee said Friday. "The civil cases will continue to gather steam. We take Mr. Watson’s depo again Tuesday. We have to respect the process."

The civil cases and related depositions will proceed this time without the cloud of a criminal investigation hanging over Watson's head, as it had been for the past year.

"We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have," Hardin said in his statement. "There were no crimes here, but there is a plaintiffs’ attorney churning up negative press and churning up his clients hoping for a payday. These cases have been the product of a lawyer maximizing his own personal publicity at the expense of others, including his own clients. It is time to let Deshaun move on.” 

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

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