HOUSTON — In the most comprehensive statement yet from Deshaun Watson’s legal team, defense attorney Rusty Hardin revealed a few key components of what lies ahead in the legal battles between the Houston Texans quarterback and now 16 women who have filed civil lawsuits accusing him of sexual assault.
Not only does Watson appear steadfastly dedicated to fighting the cases in a legal setting, Hardin published an affidavit from Watson’s business manager, Bryan Burney, alleging that one of the accusers attempted to “blackmail” the quarterback through her business manager. While the affidavit was aimed at only one accuser, it appears to be a clear sign that Watson’s legal team would be willing to openly challenge the character and motives of at least some of the alleged victims, rather than waiting solely for a court appearance to begin mounting a defense in the realm of public opinion.
Hardin’s inclusion of the affidavit in his statement Tuesday also signaled a more aggressive continuation of social media posts by both the quarterback and his agent, which pointed to Watson as a victim of a financially motivated conspiracy.
As for Watson’s alleged contact with the accusers, Hardin didn’t confirm or deny whether the quarterback engaged in some kind of physical encounter with the alleged victims, but insisted: “I believe that any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.” The wording of that statement is important because it leaves latitude for Watson's defense team to mount a defense on the basis that any physical contact was something that occurred in a consensual setting — if that's ultimately necessary.
Hardin’s legal track appears to be fairly linear: The attorney for the alleged victims, Tony Buzbee, has used social media and a string of individual lawsuits to “publicly humiliate” Watson, all while privately shielding the identity of the alleged victims to prevent Watson’s legal team from launching its own investigation. While Buzbee has included dates and locations of alleged incidents in his lawsuits (which would assumably reveal the identity of the accusers to Watson), Hardin decried Buzbee withholding the names of the accusers from Watson’s camp up to Tuesday, stating: “[R]efusing our requests to confidentially provide the names of the plaintiffs so we can fully investigate their claims makes uncovering the truth extremely difficult.”
The implication of Hardin's statement is that Buzbee will be targeted by Watson’s camp as the person who ultimately stimulated what they consider a nefarious legal attack — with a parallel target painted on at least some of the accusers as individuals who are either lying or misconstruing events surrounding their encounters with Watson.
The statement from Hardin:
The affidavit from Burney alleging a blackmail attempt from one alleged victim:
The nature of Hardin’s statement and Buzbee’s use of social media suggests this will be a legal engagement that will have plenty of wrangling in the court of public opinion. And Tuesday was no exception, with Buzbee filing two additional lawsuits on the same afternoon of Hardin’s statement. That brings the total number of statements standing against Watson to 16, with the potential that more could be filed in the coming days. Of the pair Buzbee filed Tuesday, both had the hallmarks of other past suits that included claims of Watson arranging for massages and then trying to sexualize the encounter.
One of the suits included a wrinkle not seen in the others, stating that the accuser contacted her mother and best friend and related details of the alleged incident immediately after the encounter. Such a detail can be key in civil cases as attorneys attempt to build out an infrastructure of testimony supporting a claim.
It could be particularly important if Buzbee follows through on his promise to deliver information to the Houston Police Department and Harris County prosecutors, for consideration of impaneling a grand jury that could recommend criminal charges against Watson. Buzbee didn’t give a defined timeline for that potential move, stating that he preferred to get the totality of his civil suits filed before engaging in a potential criminal process.
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