Sports Women suing Deshaun Watson upset over QB's six-game suspension,...

Women suing Deshaun Watson upset over QB’s six-game suspension, lawyer says

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The attorney for 24 women suing Deshaun Watson said Thursday that his clients reacted with disgust after learning the Cleveland Browns quarterback was suspended for only six games by the NFL’s independent disciplinary official this week.

Tony Buzbee, an attorney, told a news conference in Houston that one of his clients said the suspension was “not even a slap on the wrist. It’s a kiss on the cheek.”

According to Buzbee, other comments include the following:

“This slap on the wrist for him is a slap in the face for us.”

“We don’t matter to the NFL.”

“This decision seems to defeat me.”

The first women to sue Watson last year and accuse him of sexual misconduct also spoke at the news conference and said she has received death threats since going public with her allegations against Watson last year. Ashley Solis said the NFL’s actions sent a message to “little girls who have suffered at the hands of those who feel they have authority.”

She said the message was “it’s no big deal, they don’t care, tough (expletive).”

“That’s what I took from their actions, so instead I let those same little girls tell my actions differently,” Solis said. “No matter how scary, big or powerful someone seems, they’re just human. And like all human beings, we all have the right to have our voices heard. So when I step back and look at them for what they are, I realize that it hurts people who hurt people.

The NFL is appealing the six-game suspension issued by its independent disciplinary official, Sue L. Robinson, a retired federal judge. A person familiar with the case told USA TODAY Sports that the league sought an indefinite suspension of at least one year and is still pursuing the same punishment. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Robinson concluded that Watson committed sexual assault under the league’s definition of four women, the NFL presented their cases during a three-day hearing when the league presented its case against the quarterback.

Watson, 26, was sued in 2020 and early 2021 by 24 women who alleged he sexually assaulted him during massage sessions while he was employed by the Houston Texans. All but one of those 24 lawsuits, including Solis’, were settled out of court with confidentiality agreements. The Texans reached confidential settlements with 30 women after they accused Watson of enabling the behavior and not stopping it.

NFL Record Projections:How does Deshaun Watson’s suspension change the season outlook?

Watson was never arrested or charged with a crime and denied wrongdoing. He was traded to the Cleveland Browns in March, giving him a record guaranteed contract of $230 million over five years.

Buzbee claimed his firm spent more than $250,000 pursuing the cases and criticized the NFL’s investigation into Watson, which began in March 2021 after Solis first filed the lawsuit. He said the league rejected sworn statements he had provided from his clients, Buzby said. He did not testify in the trial.

“Why did the NFL only talk to 10 of my clients and only offer four of those 10,” Buzby said. “It really makes you scratch your head and say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ makes one wonder”

The NFL “bunched” the matter, including its investigation, when it thought its clients were more likely to be prosecuted than Watson.

“From the beginning, one of the first questions NFL investigators asked our clients was, ‘What are you wearing?'” Buzby said. “It gave us a lot of pause. Some interviews spend too much time on a deep dive on the victim and no questions on the alleged behavior.

Buzby criticized the district attorney in Harris County, Texas, for not aggressively pursuing criminal charges against Watson. He said Solis was only brought in to testify before the grand jury, which considered several cases before deciding not to indict Watson.

“The elected DA failed these women,” Buzby said.

Buzbee concluded by sending a message to the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday formally appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey was selected.

“Mr. Goodell, what do you do?” Buzbee asked. “It’s never too late to do the right thing. And that’s what these women and those watching are hoping for.”

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @ Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com



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