HOUSTON — A grand jury on Friday declined to indict Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson following a police investigation sparked by lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of harassment and sexual assault.
Prosecutors from the district attorney’s office in Harris County, Texas, presented evidence and testimony to the 12-person grand jury for over six hours on Friday related to nine of the 10 criminal complaints filed against Watson. The grand jury, which does not require a unanimous vote, rejected all nine cases; prosecutors did not present the 10th.
According to Johna Stallings, chief of the adult sex crimes and trafficking division with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, the grand jury’s decision ended criminal proceedings related to Watson in Harris County, where Houston is located.
“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, speaking to reporters for the first time in over a year, said at a news conference outside his lawyer’s office building. “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.
“I’m just going to keep fighting to rebuild my name and rebuild my appearance in the community. And on the legal side handle what we need to handle. But also ready to get on the field, and prep for that.”
Stallings declined to say what possible charges were presented to the grand jury for consideration.
“We respect the grand jury’s decision,” she said.
The announcement on Friday came nearly a year after the first civil lawsuit was filed against Watson. The 22 civil cases accuse him of a range of actions during massage appointments, from touching women with his genitals to forced oral sex.
Eight of the women who sued Watson filed criminal complaints against him with Houston police and had been set to appear before the grand jury. Two other women who didn’t sue Watson also filed police complaints.
Houston police began investigating Watson in April 2021 after the first criminal complaint was filed. The FBI also was reviewing the allegations.
Watson’s lawyers have said “some sexual activity” happened during some of the massage appointments but that he never coerced anyone.
“We are delighted that the grand jury has looked at the matter thoroughly and reached the same conclusion we did,” Rustin Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney, said in a statement. “Deshaun Watson did not commit any crimes and is not guilty of any offenses. Now that the criminal investigations have been completed, we are happy to move forward with the civil case depositions. We will vigorously defend those cases with every ounce we have.”
Watson sat for depositions in two of the civil lawsuits against him earlier Friday at the offices of Hardin’s law firm, located about half a mile away from the Harris County criminal courthouse in downtown Houston, where the grand jury met.
Watson invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during the deposition, Hardin said.
Tony Buzbee, the attorney representing the 22 women, said the criminal case is separate from the civil cases and he will continue the process of questioning Watson as the lawsuits move toward trial.
“The civil cases will continue to gather steam. We take Mr. Watson’s deposition again Tuesday. Respect the process,” Buzbee said Friday.
No trial date has been set for the lawsuits.
A spokesman for the NFL, which is investigating Watson under its personal conduct policy, said in a statement Friday, “We have been closely monitoring all developments in the matter.”
Although Watson has not played for the Texans since the first lawsuit was filed on March 16, 2020, he was on the active roster during the 2021 season and was a healthy scratch for all 17 games. He was paid his entire $10.54 million base salary. Last year, Hardin said he didn’t expect Watson to speak with the NFL’s investigative team until the criminal investigation had concluded.
In January 2021, Watson asked the Texans to trade him because he was unhappy about the direction of the franchise. While members of the Texans’ organization have declined to comment specifically on Watson’s legal situation, general manager Nick Caserio said earlier this month that the team is “day-to-day in terms of handling” Watson’s situation. Last week, coach Lovie Smith said the Texans are hoping for “a prompt resolution” to Watson’s future with the team.
The trade market for the star QB is expected to ramp up quickly, with Houston open to moving him and multiple teams expected to be interested, league sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.