CLEVELAND — A second grand jury in Texas declined Thursday to indict new Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by 22 women and still faces civil lawsuits.
As Watson arrived in Cleveland to undergo a physical and meet with coaches, the grand jury in Brazoria County listened to evidence related to a criminal complaint filed by one of the 22 women. The district attorney later announced that the grand jury declined to charge Watson.
“Accordingly, this matter is closed,” Brazoria County District Attorney Tom Selleck said in a statement.
Only hours earlier, Watson arrived at Cleveland’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio, wearing an orange throwback Browns jacket. His arrival was delayed so Watson could give depositions Tuesday and Wednesday in Houston in the civil lawsuits.
Two weeks ago, a grand jury in Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, declined to indict Watson on criminal charges after considering evidence related to nine criminal complaints that had been filed with Houston police. The tenth criminal complaint was heard in neighboring Brazoria County.
That case was referred to the Brazoria County District Attorney’s Office, which did not begin investigating until the nine criminal complaints in Harris County were concluded, said Rusty Hardin, Watson’s lead attorney.
According to the woman’s lawsuit, she alleged that during two massage sessions in November 2020 in a home in the Houston suburb of Pearland, in Brazoria County, Watson tried to get her to touch his penis and ejaculated during the session.
Watson has maintained his innocence while saying any sexual activity during the sessions was consensual.
In their lawsuits, the 22 women accused Watson of exposing himself, touching them with his penis or kissing them against their will. One woman alleged Watson forced her to perform oral sex.
Hardin said the Browns had been aware of the second grand jury before signing Watson.
TV cameras captured Watson walking into the team’s facility shortly before noon. Watson was scheduled to undergo a physical, and the Browns were still ironing out plans for a possible introductory news conference.
It would be the first time reporters can ask Watson about the allegations or the Browns about their decision to trade for the 26-year-old.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Watson, who sat out the 2020 season after demanding a trade, chose Cleveland to restart his career over several other teams after initially telling the Browns he wasn’t interested in playing for them. However, he changed his mind, perhaps swayed by a fully guaranteed $230 million contract.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam released statements on Sunday saying the team went through a “comprehensive evaluation process” before deciding to pursue Watson and ultimately signing him.
The Haslams flew to Houston and met with Watson along with Browns general manager Andrew Berry and coach Kevin Stefanski.
“He was humble, sincere and candid,” the Haslams said. “In our conversations, Deshaun detailed his commitment to leading our team; he understands and embraces the hard work needed to build his name both in the community and on the field.”
The Browns traded three first-round picks and six selections overall to the Texans for Watson, who may finally end Cleveland’s decades-long search for a franchise quarterback.
Watson, though, is still facing discipline from the NFL and it’s likely he’ll miss at least a portion of the 2022 season. The league is doing an independent investigation into Watson’s off-field behavior to determine whether he violated its personal conduct policy.
With Watson on board, the Browns are attempting to trade Baker Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 who had a rough, injury-altered 2020 season. Mayfield requested the trade after learning of the Browns’ interest in Watson.
Cleveland also signed former Indianapolis starter Jacoby Brissett as a backup, and insurance in case Watson is suspended.
On Wednesday night, Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II said he didn’t know Watson and he and his teammates were looking forward to meeting him.
“We’ve kind of just got to get a feel for him,” Newsome said at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards. “We don’t know him as anything as of right now, so we’ve just got to get to know him.”