Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has been sued by four more women who accuse him of sexual assault and harassment.
The lawsuits were filed Thursday night, hours after the NFL said it was investigating earlier allegations by three massage therapists who said the quarterback sexually assaulted them during massages.
The claims in the four new suits, which were filed in a Harris County state district court, mirror those in the three earlier cases. Each woman who sued Thursday worked in a spa or giving massages and claims that the Gainesville High graduate exposed himself, touched them with his penis or kissed them against their will.
Despite the serious allegations, support for Watson remains as strong as ever in Gainesville.
Michael Perry, who was Watson’s quarterback coach at Gainesville High, said he lost sleep Wednesday night thinking about the stories surrounding the player he coached and has known for more than 15 years.
“I’ve never seen any instance where Deshaun mistreated anyone,” said Perry, who was named the head football coach at Union County earlier this month. “He’s the kind of person who has helped people every chance he gets and is a role model for others.”
Indeed, Watson does have a long record of philanthropic work.
In 2017, Watson gave his first game check, totalling $27,523, to five cafeteria workers at the Houston Texans team headquarters who lost their homes in Hurricane Harvey.
Watson also started the Deshaun Watson Foundation, which has reached into many areas to help people in Gainesville and Houston. On Feb. 1, the Deshaun Watson Foundation launched its initiative to fund two college scholarships each year for Gainesville High seniors through the North Georgia Community Foundation. Also, the Deshaun Watson Food Drive campaign made an appearance in Gainesville in February, making a large contribution to the community.
“People who know Deshaun, know what he’s made of, know his character, know he wouldn’t do this,” said Bruce Miller, who coached Watson at Gainesville from 2010-13.
None of the seven women, who have sued separately but are all represented by Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, are identified by name in the lawsuits. They are each seeking compensatory and punitive damages, as well as court costs.
Watson, 25, has broadly denied that he acted inappropriately and said in a Tuesday statement that he looks forward to clearing his name. In a statement Friday, an attorney for Watson, Rusty Hardin, called the allegations “meritless.”
At a Friday news conference, Buzbee said he expects to file more lawsuits and his firm is vetting additional claims from women, including one involving an incident this month. None of his clients had filed police reports, he said, “but that is our next step.”
Buzbee said some of the massage therapists who came forward work at spas, some work from their homes, some work at deluxe hotels. All but one, who was flown in from Atlanta, were from the Houston area.
“These are, for the most part, licensed professionals. These are people that, many of them, are single mothers, either own their own shop or work in a spa,” while three clients are married and one is engaged to be married, he said.
The women are suing for $500 in damages, the least that can be sought in a Texas civil district court, “and they bring these cases for one reason only — stopping further misconduct from this defendant or any others like him,” he said.
Hardin’s statement said he is “extremely proud to represent Deshaun Watson and wholly stand behind him.”
“However, we will wait to comment in detail until we’ve completed our review of the numerous, evolving allegations from Mr. Buzbee,” the statement said. “We will respond next week and ask you to keep an open mind until we do so.”
Watson is one of the league’s top quarterbacks and led the NFL in yards passing last season. He signed a four-year, $156 million contract extension with the Texans last offseason, but he became unhappy with the direction of the team as Houston sunk to 4-12 and he requested a trade in January.
Times sports editor Bill Murphy contributed to this report