“I know a lot of you are probably wondering who I was, or if I even existed. I’m not afraid anymore,” said Ashley Solis, a massage therapist in Houston, during a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the law office of her attorney, Tony Buzbee.
“People say that I’m doing this just for money. That is false,” Solis said. “I’ve come forward now so Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman.”
Watson has denied the allegations levied against him, as has his attorney, Rusty Hardin. Later Tuesday, Hardin’s firm released emails between representatives for Watson and Solis that show settlement negotiations that preceded her lawsuit.
Solis was the first of 22 women to sue Watson in state court in Texas in mid-March, over allegations he attempted to get her to gratify him sexually during a massage at her home in March 2020. She is the second woman to file a criminal complaint against Watson, according to Buzbee, after a different woman’s complaint prompted Houston police to say last week that it had opened an investigation. Solis was the first woman to approach Buzbee with allegations about Watson several months ago, the lawyer said, calling Solis “brave” and “a pioneer.”
A spokeswoman for Houston police declined to comment Tuesday.
Reading from a prepared statement, Solis sobbed at times, dabbing at her eyes with tissues as she described the emotional impact of what she alleged Watson did to her that day: exposing himself and forcibly touching her hand with his erect penis.
“I replay the incident over and over in my head as if I’m trying to wake up from a horrible nightmare. Only that nightmare was real,” Solis said. The incident has left her dealing with panic attacks, anxiety and depression, Solis said, and ruined her career. She frequently finds herself unable to massage a client, she said, because her hands shake too severely for her to go forward.
“I got into massage therapy to heal people,” she said. “He took that away from me. He tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride.”
A second woman also publicly attached her name to her allegations at Tuesday’s news conference. Lauren Baxley, a massage therapist, did not speak, but an attorney at Buzbee’s firm read aloud a letter she wrote to Watson at the suggestion of her therapist, she said.
In the letter, Baxley called Watson “nothing more than a predator with power.” Like many of the other accusers have described in lawsuits, Baxley said Watson contacted her through Instagram. Initially, she said, she was very excited. But she grew concerned when Watson told her “it was difficult to find a therapist who was comfortable” working with him, she said.
On the day of the massage, Baxley said, she entered the room at her spa to find Watson face down, naked. He complained when she insisted he cover up with a towel, she said, and then attempted to get her to penetrate his anus with her fingers, exposed himself and touched her hands with his penis.
“Just grab it if it’s in the way,” Watson told her, she said.
“You are not a good man. Anything good that you have done is poisoned by your true nature,” Baxley said. “You have deeply and irreversibly brought terror to me and others.”
Buzbee represents all 22 of the women who have sued Watson and said Tuesday his firm had turned away five other women, he explained, “who we did not believe we could sustain cases for.” At Tuesday’s news conference, he read from documents he claimed he would later make public, including a nondisclosure agreement Watson sent to two women and social media messages he said were exchanged between Watson and some of his clients.
In one exchange, Buzbee said, one of his clients confided in a boss about her “dismay, shock and humiliation” at Watson’s conduct. In another, involving a woman who claims Watson flew her from Atlanta to Houston for a massage, Watson wrote that he would borrow a table from the Texans for the session, according to Buzbee.
Asked if he believed the Texans were aware of any allegations against Watson before they came to his attention, Buzbee said: “They certainly knew he was getting massages. I’m not suggesting in any way they knew what was going on in these sessions.”
A few seconds later, however, he added, “At some point, when you have all the resources available to Deshaun Watson and you know he’s going elsewhere with some frequency, you have some obligations to ask some questions.”
The Texans declined to comment Tuesday. The NFL has opened its own investigation into Watson’s conduct.
“The allegations are deeply disturbing and we take these issues very seriously,” the NFL said in a statement through a spokesman. “We are continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter.”
A few hours after the news conference, Hardin’s firm released a series of emails exchanged between representatives for Watson and Buzbee’s firm in February when the sides discussed a possible settlement of Solis’s claims for $100,000, which Hardin’s firm characterized as “hush money.”
“Either help us understand the rationale behind the $100k demand or come back with a different figure,” wrote Scott Gaffield, general counsel at Athletes First, the agency that represents Watson, on Feb. 19. “We don’t believe that the alleged facts show that Deshaun did anything wrong with regards to Ms. Solis, but we are nevertheless happy to continue the conversation around a reasonable settlement figure because we believe he can learn a lesson about having put himself in this situation.”
Buzbee replied within the hour.
“We made a legit demand. You rejected it. We won’t be making another or bid against ourselves,” Buzbee wrote. “We also won’t be having an extended dialogue about why you think your client did nothing wrong or how you want this to be a “learning” experience for your “high profile athlete,” as you refer to him. This is Houston, Texas. Perhaps you should find him a lawyer here so you can apprise both you and your client of the landscape here and who you are dealing with.”
Mark Maske contributed to this report.