On Monday morning, a 24th woman filed a civil lawsuit against Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, saying that Watson exposed himself to her during a massage session. The plaintiff, Katy Williams, says that she ended the massage when he started to masturbate in front of her, but he continued to masturbate and then ejaculated onto her.
The lawsuit says that “plaintiff comes forward now after reading that Deshaun Watson proclaims he has no regrets and that he has done nothing wrong.”
She is the second plaintiff in the last week to cite Watson’s “I don’t have any regrets” comment as motivation to file suit, a comment that was echoed by Watson’s legal team in an interview with HBO that aired on May 24. In March, at his introductory press conference with the Cleveland Browns, Watson was asked if he had any regrets. “I don’t have any regrets,” he told reporters. “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.”
The 24th plaintiff is a massage therapist, and the suit does not specify whether she was licensed or not (a search with her name in the state database did not turn up a result), but says that she had just graduated massage therapy school when Watson contacted her to set up a session in August of 2020.
The plaintiff says that she spoke with Watson on the phone prior to scheduling the first session and that he told her that he “really wanted to support Black businesses.” Per the lawsuit, she also says Watson told her, “I want you to be comfortable. You do not have to wear your scrubs.”
The plaintiff says that Watson wanted to schedule the session for that same night, but she decided to schedule him for the next day, Aug. 5, 2020, in the afternoon because, per the lawsuit, “that made her more comfortable.”
The lawsuit says that the plaintiff operated her own business and didn’t have many clients yet because her business was new. She did sessions out of her apartment, and says that her first session with Watson was “professional.” She says he asked for his inner thighs massaged and asked her for a towel because he didn’t like the standard draping that she used. Per the lawsuit, the plaintiff says that when Watson left he told her, “Just keep this between us.”
She says that Watson reached out again a few days later to schedule a second session for the afternoon of Aug. 9, 2020, again at her apartment. This time, she says, Watson requested a small towel and “insisted on starting the massage with him lying face up.”
“During the massage,” the lawsuit states, “Watson’s tone became more aggressive as he repeatedly demanded that she go higher and higher into his inner thighs, causing her hand to touch his scrotum.”
The lawsuit says that the plaintiff was scared because Watson was in her apartment, “and he was much bigger and stronger than plaintiff.” She says that Watson then got an erection, which caused the towel to fall off. She says that he started to masturbate in front of her, so she immediately stopped the massage.
“Apparently responding to the look of shock on Plaintiff’s face,” the lawsuit says, “Watson said to Plaintiff. ‘Relax, it’s okay to touch it.’”
Per the lawsuit, Watson then stood up and continued to masturbate, asking the plaintiff, “Where do you want me to put it?” The lawsuit says the plaintiff was in shock and couldn’t speak. Then, the lawsuit says Watson ejaculated onto the plaintiff’s chest and face. The lawsuit says she quickly left the room and ran into the bathroom, and Watson offered no explanation for his behavior.
This 24th lawsuit opens with three paragraphs about Watson’s “disturbing pattern of conduct.” It says that Watson sought out “strangers on Instagram” for massage sessions “more than 100 times.”
Watson’s defense attorney, Rusty Hardin, also made his way into the text of this lawsuit. “Watson’s lawyer claims that ‘happy endings’ are common in massage therapy, and, short of paying for it, such conduct is not a crime,” the lawsuit says.
On Friday morning, Hardin and law partner Leah Graham appeared on Houston’s Sports 610. At the very end of his 42-minute long appearance, he launched into an unprompted defense of Watson.
“I don’t know how many men are out there that have had a massage that perhaps, occasionally there was a happy ending. All right?” Hardin said. “Maybe there is nobody in the listening audience that has ever happened to. I do want to point out, if it has happened, it is not a crime, OK? Unless you are paying somebody extra or so to give you some type of sexual activity, it is not a crime. … Doing something or saying something or being a way that makes you uncomfortable is not a crime. And so we had two grand juries found that and nobody seems to want to listen.”
By 4:30 that afternoon, Hardin was already walking back his comments. “I mentioned that a massage that has a ‘happy ending’ is not illegal, meaning it is not illegal for someone to have consensual sex with a therapist after a massage unless the sex is for pay,” he said in a statement to reporters. “Deshaun did not pay anyone for sex. I was using the term hypothetically and not describing Deshaun’s case.”
From the start of his work for Watson, Hardin has held that any sexual activity that occurred between Watson and the women suing him was consensual. On May 23, one day before the HBO Real Sports segment aired, Hardin got more specific during an appearance on Between the Lines, a sports and legal podcast. He told host Gabe Feldman that Watson “on only three occasions” had “any type of sexual activity” with a plaintiff and that activity was consensual. “That’s three out of the 22 massages,” he said. He said that the women initiated the contact and that it only occurred after the massage sessions were over.
In the HBO segment, Real Sports’ Bryant Gumbel said that Hardin’s team repeatedly declined their requests to be interviewed while they were working on the segment, but “they asked at the 11th hour if they could still be heard.” So the day before the segment aired, the same day Hardin’s appearance on the sports law podcast posted, Real Sports reporter Soledad O’Brien interviewed Graham, who reiterated Hardin’s admission that Watson had consensual sex with three of the plaintiffs.
“In every massage, I will tell you he did go, intending just for a professional massage, and only those three instances where sexual conduct occurred—consensual sexual activity—it occurred after the massage session had ended,” Graham told HBO. “And Mr. Watson has testified and is insistent that that sexual activity was initiated by the plaintiff in every single instance.”
The 24th lawsuit spells out how Tony Buzbee, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, and his team, plan to use Hardin’s “happy endings” comment in trial. “Watson’s lawyer goes on to say that making a massage therapist ‘uncomfortable’ due to the type of conduct described herein is not a crime,” the lawsuit says. “The public comments made by Watson’s defense team evidence a belief system that explains Watson’s conduct: When Watson contacts a random massage therapist on Instagram for a massage, unbeknownst to the therapist, Watson is wanting more than a massage—his ‘thing’ is using his celebrity to make a massage session into something more.”
Four of the plaintiffs currently suing Watson claim that he offered to pay them more money for more than just massage.
The sixth lawsuit says: “Watson got irritated and told her he would pay extra to have Plaintiff to work on those areas.”
The 11th lawsuit says: “Watson asked Plaintiff if she ‘did more’ than just professional bodywork ‘for more money.’”
The 15th lawsuit says: “Watson told her not to be scared to ‘touch him.’ Plaintiff told Watson that she was not paid to do that. Watson then responded stating that it was what he paid for.”
The 17th lawsuit says: “Watson told Plaintiff he would pay extra money and said, ‘Don’t worry, no one is going to know.’”
Last week, a 23rd plaintiff filed a civil suit against Watson, saying that over three massage sessions, Watson exposed himself to her, asked her if she wanted his penis in her mouth, had an erection, and tried to make her touch his semen, touched her “between her legs,” and requested that she have sex with him.
That 23rd plaintiff, Nia Smith, told her story publicly last July in a Youtube interview, but the lawsuit says she originally didn’t want to sue because she didn’t want the “abuse and ugliness” that come with a suit against a public figure. The lawsuit says she changed her mind after watching the Real Sports piece about the other lawsuits, and after hearing Watson himself claim that he has no regrets.
In her lawsuit, Smith says that her boss at the time, Dionne Louis, “was obsessed with Watson” and that she felt trapped into working with Watson even though he made her uncomfortable because Louis said that she needed to keep Watson happy.
Smith says in her lawsuit that Louis “facilitated massages for Watson and knew Watson was attempting to have sex with them.” She also says that Louis “brushed off her concerns” and she later learned that Watson paid Louis at least $5,000 “for Louis’s ‘work.’”
Defector spoke to Louis last August and she denied knowing anything about Watson’s behavior in massage sessions. USA Today obtained a copy of Louis’s pretrial deposition, in which she said that Watson paid her $5,000 because her business was struggling during COVID-19 and “he was a nice guy, really, really nice guy.”
In her lawsuit, Smith includes a screenshot of a text from Louis that shows a $5,000 Cash App payment from Watson. Louis says in the text, “I told you I’ll show you how to get money from men that’s my specialty.”
Graham told USA Today that Watson was looking to support black-owned businesses.
As the news broke of the 24th lawsuit, Watson was golfing at the Cleveland Browns Foundation’s annual golf tournament.
The Browns maintain that they stand by the research they did Watson before paying him a fully guaranteed, record-breaking contract. If that’s true, these new and mounting lawsuits won’t come as a surprise, and we can expect them to add nothing more than a variation of We’ll let the legal process play out each and every time there’s a new allegation.
July 1 is the cutoff for pre-trial discovery, which also seems to be the logical endpoint for the NFL’s own ongoing investigation into Watson.