Embattled Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson cleared his first legal hurdle on March 11. A grand jury returned a no-bill decision after hearing evidence in nine of ten pending criminal charges, stemming from twenty-two civil complaints alleging sexual assault and abuse.
Now clear of the charges, Watson can prepare to return to the field, though his legal fight is still far from an end.
Though Watson did not play in a single game in 2021, he remained on the roster as an active player for all seventeen on the schedule, and therefore received the entirety of his $10.54 million salary for the season.
Watson was first accused of inappropriate sexual behavior on March 16, 2021, by Houston-area attorney Tony Buzbee in a civil case representing a local massage therapist.
According to the initial filing, Watson was accused of touching the therapist with his genitals and requesting sexual intercourse. The massage therapist alleges that she immediately ended the session and that Watson later contacted her and apologized for his behavior.
During the course of several weeks, Buzbee identified at least twenty-one other therapists who alleged similar stories about interactions with Watson that frequently included inappropriate behavior and sexual acts. The therapists described Watson’s behavior as that of “a serial predator.”
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, confirmed in April 2021 that some of the interactions Watson had with massage therapists did result in sexual activity, but claimed that the interactions were consensual.
The Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office began investigating the allegations following several criminal complaints against Watson alleging sexual assaults.
On Friday, prosecutors with the District Attorney presented evidence for more than six hours regarding nine of the ten charges being considered. The twelve-member Grand Jury declined to indict Watson on any of the charges presented to them.
Following the no-bill, Joanna Stallings, chief of the Adult Sex Crimes Division of the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, announced that the Grand Jury decision brings to an end the pursuit of criminal charges against Watson.
“It’s definitely a very emotional moment for me. I know we’re far from being done of handling what we need to handle on the legal side, but today is definitely a big day,” Watson told reporters following the decision.
He continued, “I thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for letting the truth be heard. And I thank everyone that was a part of this for seeing and hearing both sides. That’s what my point and my team wanted to do, is have a fair slate of us telling our side of the story and letting the conclusion come to what happened today, and that’s what the grand jury decided on.”
Watson still faces twenty-two civil lawsuits relating to his alleged inappropriate behavior with massage therapists in at least three states; however, the vacating of criminal charges paves the way for a possible return to NFL action. Currently, the quarterback is scheduled to undergo further depositions related to those civil cases, but trial dates have yet to be set.
Watson requested a trade from the Texans following the 2020 season, in which he led the entire NFL in passing yards and posted a 33-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. However, the Texans finished the season 4-12, and Watson was vocal about his dissatisfaction with the direction of the front office and coaching staff.
The decision to vacate Watson from the threat of criminal charges makes it likely that any number of quarterback-hungry teams may be willing to take a chance on the player despite the risk that allegations concerning his past behavior could present.