The Houston Police Department announced Friday that a police report has been filed against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process,” the department wrote in a statement on social media.
Asked Friday if the department could provide details of the nature of the complaint, a sergeant with Houston police said not at this time.
The nascent criminal investigation comes after 21 unnamed women filed civil lawsuits against Watson in recent weeks, each accusing him of sexual misconduct or assault during separate massage sessions dating back to March 2020. A 22nd woman came forward with similar allegations to Sports Illustrated but said she had not filed a lawsuit.
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement Friday evening that his client welcomed the investigation, calling it a “long overdue development.”
“Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser,” Hardin said. “We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
With the filing of a police report, Watson is now facing the prospect of a criminal charge in addition to possible compensatory damages in the 21 civil cases.
Experts have said some of the acts outlined in the various lawsuits could meet the criteria for indecent assault, a misdemeanor under Texas law. One of the allegations – that Watson forced a woman to perform oral sex – could possibly be classified as a felony, according to Meredith Duncan, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center.
It is unclear which allegation or allegations were reported to police Friday.
The attorney representing all 21 plaintiffs, former Houston mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee, said in a statement that he “was not personally involved” in the filing of the police report Friday. But he indicated that other criminal complaints will soon be filed “in Houston and in other jurisdictions and with other agencies.”
“I will let the authorities do their jobs, and will continue to do mine, on behalf of these courageous women,” Buzbee said.
Watson, 25, broadly denied wrongdoing in his lone public statement on the matter March 16, when the first lawsuit was filed. He wrote in a social media post that he has always treated women with “utmost respect.”
Hardin, meanwhile, has previously said that he believes “any allegation that Deshaun forced a woman to commit a sexual act is completely false.”
Most of the lawsuits filed against Watson allege that he exposed himself or touched the women with his genitals during massage sessions at various locations over the span of a little more than a year. Two of the complaints include claims of sexual assault.
The women filed the lawsuits anonymously, using the pseudonym “Jane Doe,” but many are described as licensed massage therapists, estheticians or business owners.
Buzbee said two weeks ago that his clients had not reported the incidents to police, but planned to do so. He reversed course this week, writing on social media that he was wary of taking his clients’ accusations to Houston police because he had previously called for the resignation of a former police chief, and because Hardin’s son, Thomas, works in the department.
“My clients will go elsewhere to provide our evidence to investigative authorities,” Buzbee wrote, without providing any additional information.
The allegations – and, now, police investigation – come just months after Watson asked the Texans to trade him to another team. One of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL, he led the league in passing yards last year and has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls.
In addition to civil and criminal penalties, there is also still the chance that Watson might face discipline from the NFL, which has been investigating the matter independently. In response to a request for comment, league spokesperson Brian McCarthy wrote in an email that the league is “continuing to monitor all developments in the matter which remains under review of the Personal Conduct Policy.”
Contributing: Brent Schrotenboer