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Deshaun Watson faces 23rd lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct

Deshaun Watson is facing 23 civil suits. (Ron Schwane/AP)
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Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is facing a new lawsuit from a woman who alleges he sexually assaulted her during massage sessions at a Houston spa.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in Harris County (Tex.) District Court, joins 22 other active lawsuits by women who alleged similar instances of sexual misconduct by Watson during massages in recent years. This one dates from the summer of 2020, when the plaintiff said she had three encounters with Watson at A New U Salon Spa in Houston, where she was working at the time.

The woman changed her mind about suing Watson, the lawsuit said, after seeing the HBO “Real Sports” episode on the other 22 lawsuits. The suit said “it was Watson himself claiming that even now he has ‘no regrets’ and has done nothing wrong that solidified her resolve.”

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According to the lawsuit, the woman is a licensed cosmetologist who was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Watson over the course of three massages and pressured by her boss, the spa’s owner, to continue providing massages to him. The woman alleged that, among other things, Watson was “adamant” she go inside his buttocks during the first massage and that she touch his ejaculation during the second massage, and that he groped her and “repeatedly requested” that she have sex with him during the third massage.

According to the complaint, the woman did not want to go through with the third massage, but “she could not refuse” him as a client because of her boss. The complaint alleges Dionne Louis, identified as the owner of the spa, “facilitated massages” for Watson and was paid at least $5,000 for her services.

Watson denied the latest allegations in a statement issued by his attorney, Rusty Hardin.

“Deshaun Watson vehemently denies the allegations, just as he has since she first discussed them with members of our firm in March of last year,” Hardin said in his statement. “She repeated the allegations on social media in August and he denied them then. The only thing new about her contentions is the embellishment making them more extreme than prior versions. Deshaun’s denial remains the same.”

The NFL declined to comment on the latest lawsuit. The Browns said they had no immediate comment. Louis could not be reached.

Two grand juries in Texas have declined to charge Watson. He and Hardin have denied the allegations.

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Watson has been interviewed by NFL representatives as the league investigates. He faces potential disciplinary measures under the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that the league’s investigation was nearly complete. It was not immediately clear whether the latest allegations will affect the timing of the NFL finishing its investigation.

Under the revised version of the personal conduct policy put in place in 2020, the initial ruling in the case will be made by a disciplinary officer jointly appointed by the league and the players union. Either side can appeal that ruling to Goodell.

The Browns signed Watson to a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $230 million after obtaining him in a trade this offseason with Houston. Watson did not play last season; the Texans placed him on their game-day inactive list on a weekly basis.

The woman making the latest allegations against Watson is, like other accusers, a client of attorney Tony Buzbee. Hardin said the woman “has long had a vendetta against Deshaun” and added in his statement: “We are not surprised Mr. Buzbee was willing to say just about anything to get more publicity. He knows the NFL continues to investigate these cases, and this is a transparent attempt to further punish the man he sees as a potential payday.”

The woman said in her lawsuit that one of Watson’s lawyers took her to dinner and attempted to “intimidate” her. Hardin denied that allegation, saying two attorneys in his firm “vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved in the very cordial meeting.”

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