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Buzbee: NFL, DA failed sexual assault victims

8/5/2022 11:45:57 AM
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For the first woman to sue former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson —and nearly all those who followed suit — the legal process is over.

They settled their cases alleging sexual assault and harassment. An NFL-hired arbitrator gave the football player a six-week suspension. And two grand juries declined to pursue criminal charges.

Through it all, the NFL and Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg failed those women, Houston attorney Tony Buzbee said Thursday, Samantha Ketterer of the Houston Chronicle reports.

“We are here today with a message to the NFL,” the lawyer said during a news conference. “Every victim of sexual assault is watching (Commissioner) Roger Goodell and the NFL right now. And this idea that Mr. Goodell is going to hand it off to someone independent, we don’t buy it.”

“Mr. Goodell, what will you do?”

The NFL is appealing the arbitrator's ruling and seeking a longer ban.

Buzbee lobbed his criticisms at Ogg and the NFL, in place of issuing a formal response to the confidentially settled civil lawsuits. He also commended the first plaintiff, massage therapist Ashley Solis, who sparked 23 other massage therapists to come forward with similar allegations when she filed suit more than two years ago.

Watson sought them out on social media for massage sessions and touched them with his penis, ejaculated on them without consent or coerced them into oral sex, they said. (He has denied the accounts, saying any sexual contact that occurred was consensual.)

Despite disappointing decision with the District Attorney’s Office and the league, Solis said she finally feels like she has power.

She described the past two-and-a-half years as “emotionally and mentally tasking.” As the first person to file a lawsuit and the first to speak publicly, she received countless threats from Watson fans. That vitriol sent her into a depression, but letters she received from numerous victims rejuvenated her, she said.

Solis learned that victims have the ability to speak up. They can make changes happen, she said.

“If anyone has ever tried to abuse their status, and overpower you, remind them that they picked the wrong one to try that with,” she said. “That’s exactly what I am - the wrong one.”

Solis was one of 10 women to speak with NFL investigators, Buzbee said. He added that he would've made more of his clients available, but he said the NFL "wasn't really interested in talking to them."

“It really makes you want to scratch your head and wonder, 'What the devil is going on?'" Buzbee said.

Arbitrator Sue L. Robinson made note of the NFL’s failure to interview all 24 women in her 16-page report, distancing her decision by saying, “My credibility determinations are based largely on the credibility of the NFL investigators."

NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy disputed Buzbee’s claims. He provided a statement that said the league interviewed 49 total people and attempted to interview all of the 24 women who filed suit but the remaining 12 “were not made available by their attorney or did not feel comfortable being interviewed.”

The investigation’s outcome made some of the victims to feel invisible, or as if they had been slapped, Buzbee said.

The NFL’s investigation ultimately resulted in a six-game suspension for Watson and no fine, with only four of the victims’ testimonies used to inform the decision. Robinson, a former federal judge, agreed with the NFL’s findings that Watson had violated three different league conduct policies, including sexual assault, but she declined to accept their recommendation to suspend Watson for a full season because it “cannot genuinely satisfy” the “fairness” prong of their review process.

Despite saying that Watson showed a pattern of behavior “more egregious than any before reviewed by the NFL," Robinson said she based her punishment on previous rulings by the NFL. The league is appealing the decision.

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