Deshaun Watson Says He Was Surprised by Sexual Assault Allegations and Claims He's Innocent
Asked about the allegations of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior that have been made against him, Deshaun Watson said he has never disrespected women.
"I know these allegations [are] very, very serious," Watson said. "But I've never assaulted any woman. I never disrespected any woman."
Watson was introduced as the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback at a news conference on Friday.
The Browns acquired Watson in a trade with the Houston Texans on March 18 and signed him to a new contract worth $230 million guaranteed, the most guaranteed money in NFL history by $80 million.
Browns traded for Watson while he faces civil lawsuits from 22 women alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior. According to ESPN, Tony Buzbee, the attorney for plaintiffs, never heard from the Browns during their investigation, which the Browns have labeled "extensive."
Cleveland general manager Andrew Berry said legal counsel advised the team not to contact the women directly "out of concern it would be considered interfering with a criminal investigation."Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who met with Watson in person before trading for him, did not attend the news conference, but held a Zoom call with media later in the day. Berry said the team did use independent investigators, but wouldn't disclose whether they contacted the women.
"I'll say the investigators that we hired were able to get a full perspective of all the cases," Berry answered. "I'm not going to go into necessarily the details of everything the investigators did, but they got a full perspective for all the criminal and civil cases."
Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who met with Watson in person in Houston before trading for him, were not at the news conference but held a Zoom call with media later in the day.
"In research we did directly, in research third parties did, we got comfortable with the situation," Jimmy Haslam said, adding that the idea for the acquisition originated from the front office and not from ownership.
Hasselam said the investigators put in a "tremendous amount of work to where we became comfortable as an organization," though some of the women have yet to give their sworn testimony.
"One of the things that has impressed us about Deshaun is his continual drive to get better in all parts of his life, and we think that will continue, if not grow, as he joins our organization," per Haslam.
Dee Haslam emphasized that they spent a lot of time "working through this [decision] as a family."
"We knew going into this that this could be really hard on individuals and could trigger emotions from individuals who have been through sexual abuse," she said. "I just have to tell you, our compassion for those individuals is really deep. We know how hard this has been on them."
After considering an allegation of sexual misconduct, a second grand jury declined to indict Watson in Texas on Thursday, the district attorney in Brazoria County announced. In Harris County, where Houston is located, a grand jury declined to indict Watson on criminal charges following a police investigation sparked by the lawsuits. A variety of allegations are made in the lawsuits, from touching women with his genitals to forcing oral sex. Eight of the women who sued Watson filed criminal complaints against him with Houston police and were scheduled to appear before a grand jury.
According to Watson, it's "not my intent" to settle any of the 22 civil suits. Watson will take two more depositions next week, Buzbee told ESPN.
"I understand the whole circumstance is very difficult, especially for the women's side of the fans in this community; I'm not naive to that," Watson said.
"The things that are off the field right now that came up caught me by surprise because I never did anything that these people are alleging."