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The first woman to file a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Deshaun Watson came forward Tuesday to tell her story publicly and said the NFL quarterback assaulted and harassed her March 30, 2020, in her home.
Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist, was the first Watson accuser to reveal her identity among the 22 who have filed lawsuits against the Texans QB since March 16. After she read her statement in front of TV cameras, one of her attorneys also revealed the name of a second woman who made similar allegations in a lawsuit – Lauren Baxley, who was identified as another therapist.
“I am a survivor of assault and harassment,” Solis said from the office of her attorney in Houston. “Deshaun Watson is my assaulter and my harasser. Deshaun Watson assaulted and harassed me on March 30th, 2020, in my own home doing what I felt was massage therapy. I am a licensed massage therapist. Now that the profession that I love so much has been forever tainted, I am deeply saddened but not surprised to see so many victim-blaming in the press and by online commenters.
"And they have absolutely no idea what I’m going through or what happened to me. No idea. This incident has affected me in many ways, and those ways are hard to describe. They are 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.”
Like Solis, Baxley said in a letter read by her attorney that Watson reached out to her through Instagram to obtain her services. Baxley did not appear in front of cameras. Both are among 22 plaintiffs who have accused him sexual misconduct, including two who accuse him of sexual assault.
Many describe a similar pattern – that the Houston Texans quarterback initiated contact via Instagram to arrange for a massage session, then caused them to touch his genitals during the session.
Watson, 25, has not been arrested or criminally charged. He and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have broadly denied the allegations.
After Solis came forward, Hardin's firm fired back by releasing a statement that said her attorney, Tony Buzbee, had "sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit."
Solis had said in her statement earlier that "people say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false."
Hardin's firm also showed an e-mail exchange in February between a representative for Watson, Scott Gaffield, and two attorneys for Solis: Buzbee and Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, an attorney with Buzbee's firm. The e-mails were part of an apparent bid to settle the case before the lawsuit was filed. Gaffield is general counsel for Athletes First, the sports agency for a number of NFL players, including Watson. Gaffield indicated he was open to paying off Solis to help Watson "learn a lesson."
"We don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong with regards to Ms. Solis, but we are nevertheless happy to continue the conversation around a reasonable settlement figure because we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation," Gaffield wrote Feb. 19.
Buzbee then replied to Gaffield.
"We made a legit demand. You rejected it," Buzbee wrote Feb. 19, according to the release. " We won’t be making another or bid against ourselves. We also won’t be having an extended dialogue about why you think your client did nothing wrong or how you want this to be a `learning' experience for your `high profile athlete,' as you refer to him. 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. Talk soon."
Gaffield explained his e-mail Tuesday in a statement issued by Hardin's firm.
"We did not think that the facts showed that Deshaun did anything wrong with their client," the statement said. "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.”
After news of the first lawsuit was made public, Watson wrote on Twitter that Buzbee made a “baseless six-figure settlement demand” before filing suit. Watson also said he looked forward to clearing his name and that he has never treated a woman “with anything but the utmost respect.”
The lawsuits have all come from Buzbee's law firm since March 16, and all were filed by plaintiffs under the pseudonym Jane Doe. In Baxley's case, she said her encounter with Watson happened last June. Brandfield-Harvey read a letter from Baxley that Baxley had addressed to Watson.
“I have been angry at you for so many reasons since that day in June,” Baxley's letter said, according to Brandfield-Harvey. “I am furious that the talented and hard-working young Black man that gave so many children inspiration is nothing more than a predator with power. I am heartbroken for your family, for your loved ones, for those coming to terms with the fact that your charitable work and good-guy persona are nothing more than a meticulously designed façade to keep your victims silent and second-guessing themselves.”
The women seek compensatory damages and are described as licensed massage therapists, estheticians and other fitness and wellness professionals. Most of the alleged incidents took place in Houston, according to the lawsuits. Three others allegedly took place in California, Georgia and Arizona.
On Friday, the Houston Police Department said a report was filed against Watson and that it was investigating. Buzbee said the report was not from Solis but another client.
“We welcome this long overdue development,” Hardin said in a statement Friday. “Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
Hardin previously noted the lack of evidence submitted to police in these cases and said it was because Buzbee’s “parade of anonymous allegations could not survive the rigorous inquiry of trained investigators or the need to attest to the truth of the allegations under oath.”
Hardin also released a list of 18 named therapists who said Watson “never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage.”
Even if Watson is never charged with a crime, the NFL could suspend him for violations of its personal conduct policy, depending on the findings of its own investigation.
"The allegations are deeply disturbing and we take these issues very seriously," the NFL said in a statement. "Immediately following news of the first allegations last month, and as has been reported, we initiated an investigation under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. We are continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter."
Contributing: Tom Schad
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ashley Solis, Lauren Baxley come forwards as Deshaun Watson accusers