A lawyer for 22 women who have filed lawsuits accusing Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson of sexual assault and harassment said Wednesday that he and some of his clients have spoken to the FBI about the case.
Tony Buzbee told the Associated Press that the FBI “reached out to me and I responded.” The FBI’s involvement was first reported Tuesday by Justice League, a site that reports on sports and the law.
Buzbee’s revelation of the FBI’s involvement prompted Watson’s attorney general to hold a press conference on Wednesday, saying the FBI had spoken to the quarterback earlier this year about allegations of extortion from one of his prosecutors.
In their lawsuits, the 22 women prosecutor Watson to expose themselves, touch them with his penis or kiss them against their will during massage appointments.
Watson and his lawyers have denied the allegations. His lawyers have said that “some sexual activities” took place under some of the agreements, but that he never forced anyone.
Houston police are investigating some of the charges, but no charges have been filed. The NFL has launched its own probe.
At a news conference Wednesday, Rusty Hardin, Watson’s attorney general, said FBI agents approached him in April over allegations that one of the women who has sued Watson tried to extort $ 30,000 from him. Hardin said agents interviewed Watson. The woman alleges that Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
In an email, Christina Garza, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s office in Houston, said she could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Hardin said local jury summonses have been sent out in the investigation by local authorities, but he does not know details about them.
“Once the (prosecutors’) investigation is over, their findings will be presented to a grand jury. We will have the opportunity to appear … to tell our side, and we will have a smooth hearing,” Hardin said.
Hardin said he welcomed the role of the FBI in the case. But he also criticized Buzbee for revealing the agency’s involvement, saying FBI investigations are usually kept confidential.
Buzbee “knows that these lawsuits have no future in the long run,” Hardin said. “What he wants is to be out there promoting himself and the lawsuits and trying to get Deshaun to settle them and pay them money so he can ride into the sunset.”
Buzbee denied that he was seeking publicity or money and accused Hardin of trying to change the narrative and of “trying to defend the indefensible.”
At his press conference, Hardin read what he said were text messages to Watson from the woman he accuses of extortion. In them, she does not mention an alleged attack on December 28, 2020 during a massage session, Hardin said.
According to Hardin, the woman said in a text: “Hey Deshaun just wanted to say thank you for trusting me with your massage today. I will be here until January 3rd if you would like another.”
Hardin said the woman in another text wrote, “I just want to say I apologize for my actions. It was not me. And if I could take that moment back, I would. I really degraded my integrity and professionalism.”
Buzbee accused Hardin of attacking the women who have sued Watson.
“Deshaun Watson has a problem and his lawyer is not focused on it,” Buzbee said. “He’s focused on trying to attack me or my clients, and I’m tired of that.”
Watson’s lawyers have sought to balance their defenses with the NFL star while condemning sexual violence against women.
But Watson’s lawyers have called the lawsuits against him a “money tag” and fired back at the fact that all 22 women who have sued are lying, a strategy say some experts and lawyers is dependent on long-used tropes designed to minimize such accusations. Buzbee has said some of his clients have been subjected to criticism and even death threats.
Buzbee said he had no plans to settle the lawsuits.
“We have to have a trial. I’m pretty sure that (Hardin) against me, I feel quite safe,” he said.
Watson’s future with the Texans is still unclear. Watson signed up for the Texans training camp last month to avoid being fined. Watson signed a four-year deal $ 160 million extended contract with the Texans in 2020 and led the NFL in yards that passed last season. But before the lawsuits were filed, he had asked to be traded.
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