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HOUSTON — Two women who have filed civil lawsuits against Deshaun Watson publicly attached their names to the litigation Tuesday, including the first alleged victim to establish a sexual assault claim against the Houston Texans quarterback.
In a news conference arranged by Houston attorney Tony Buzbee — who represents 22 women who have filed civil suits against Watson — licensed massage therapist Ashley Solis identified herself as the first woman to file litigation against the Texans star. In the process of revealing her identity, Solis went on to make a tearful statement that appeared to be aimed at Watson’s defense team, which has been critical of the use of anonymity in the multitude of civil cases lodging damning claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment against Watson. Buzbee said the statement and account from Solis has been given to the Houston Police Department for further investigation.
“My name is Ashley Solis. Remember that name,” Solis said. “I hope every woman or man out there who is a survivor hears my story. And I hope my story gives them courage to speak out. It has taken me a long time to get to this point — to come out publicly and speak my truth. I know a lot of you are probably wondering who I was or if I even existed. I was afraid. I am not afraid anymore and I do exist. I am here to take back the power and take back control. I am a survivor of assault and harassment. Deshaun Watson is my assaulter and my harasser.”
Solis identified herself as the woman in Buzbee’s first civil filing, which claimed that Watson arranged and then sexualized a massage appointment at her home business on March 30, 2020, allegedly exposing himself and touching her hand with his erect penis before she ended the session and asked Watson to leave.
Solis claimed on Tuesday that the encounter impacted her emotionally and undermined her physical ability in her profession.
“This incident has impacted me in many ways and those ways are hard to describe,” Solis said. “I feel a range [of] emotions. Guilt, embarrassment, shame, courage, anger, sadness and numbness. Some days I feel like a hero, other days I feel like a failure. I replay the incident over and over in my head, as if I’m trying to wake up from some horrible nightmare — only that nightmare is real. I blame myself at times, which is insane. Society has groomed women to believe that it’s their fault when they are harassed or assaulted, as if somehow we asked for it, or as if somehow we could have prevented it.
“People say that I’m doing this just for money,” Solis said. “That is false. I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman.”
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, responded to Solis and Tuesday’s news conference with further suggestion that her actions are motivated by money and not by the quarterback’s guilt. Hardin included a statement accompanying a batch of emails between his office and Buzbee showing settlement talks in which Buzbee requested $100,000. Buzbee had also previously acknowledged trying to settle Solis’ issue out of court — however, the financial details, and Watson’s apparent willingness to consider a settlement with Solis, weren’t made public until Hardin revealed them Tuesday. In the email exchanges, Watson’s representation denies any wrongdoing by the player, but indicates they are open to talking about a settlement. The talks appear to break down over a $100,000 figure that Buzbee set.
Per Hardin’s statement:
[A]ccording to the documentation below, Mr. Buzbee sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit.
“My client’s demand is $100,000,” Buzbee associate Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey wrote in a February 9, 2021 email on behalf of Ms. Solis. Ms. Brandfield-Harvey followed up with a clarification of the $100,000 demand later that same day. “This offer remains open until Friday of this week.” Mr. Buzbee is copied on all of the emails.
The Watson representative who engaged in the discussions with Mr. Buzbee and his firm is Scott Gaffield, the General Counsel at the Athletes First agency of Laguna Beach.
On February 19, Mr. Gaffield responded to Mr. Buzbee and Ms. Brandfield-Harvey by inquiring about “the rationale behind the $100k demand” given that “we don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong…”
Mr. Buzbee responded that same morning: “We made a legit demand. You rejected it. We won’t be making another or bid against ourselves.” He then added: “This is Houston, Texas. Perhaps you should find him a lawyer here so you can apprise both you and your client of the landscape here and who you are dealing with.”
In a written statement, Mr. Gaffield said:
“My email exchanges with Mr. Buzbee and Ms. Brandfield-Harvey were very clear. We did not think that the facts showed that Deshaun did anything wrong with their client. We believed then – and fully believe now – that Deshaun learned a lesson about putting himself in this type of situation by interacting with people he does not know. As the emails show, we were willing to continue discussions on Deshaun’s behalf to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and a public spectacle. But Mr. Buzbee informed us that he was unwilling to do so. We expect that this matter will be resolved in court.”
Hardin’s statement did not address the second alleged victim who came forward Tuesday, but whom did not attend the Buzbee news conference. Instead, the woman allowed herself to be identified as Lauren Baxley and claimed to have been a massage therapist for 11 years. Baxley allowed Buzbee’s legal team to read a letter that her therapist recommended that she write to Watson to express her feelings. The letter was meant to be utilized as a therapeutic exercise — not to actually be given to Watson. The letter was read aloud by another attorney in Buzbee’s firm, Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey.
In the letter, Baxley described her claims of Watson exposing himself to her during the session, while sexualizing the encounter by directing her to massage his anus.
“Every boundary from professional and therapeutic to sexual and degrading, you crossed or attempted to cross,” Baxley said in the letter. “You insisted that I not use my knuckles or forearms, but that I use my fingers for digital stimulation, which is an ethical violation of massage practice when working in the gluteal area.”
Baxley went on to describe Watson allegedly being “aroused” and moving his body in a manner that caused his penis to touch her hand. She added that Watson allegedly told her to “just grab” his penis if it was in her way and that “this happened multiple times.”
Buzbee provided some communications showing contact between Watson and Solis, as well as a direct message from a social media account belonging to the one of the 18 massage therapists who provided statements to Watson’s attorney claiming to have had only positive encounters with the quarterback. Buzbee said one of the 18 who provided positive statements told “a different story” in a social media message that Buzbee’s office had obtained.
According to Buzbee, the same woman who provided a positive statement to Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, allegedly wrote in a direct message about Watson: “I told you I stopped working with [Deshaun Watson]. Because I was hearing too much stuff about him messing with other people. … He’s been doing a lot in the last three or four months. I even told his ass he needed to be careful because his names getting around. I just hope don’t nobody call me to question me.”
Buzbee added Tuesday that additional alleged victims may attach their names publicly to their civil suits in the future, but that the final decision would be left up to their comfort level with any assumed public backlash or negative attention.
Watson’s attorney didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The NFL said it is continuing to monitor the “deeply disturbing” allegations.
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