The first woman to file a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Deshaun Watson came forward Tuesday to tell her story publicly and said the NFL quarterback assaulted and harassed her March 30, 2020, in her home.
Ashley Solis, a licensed massage therapist, was the first Watson accuser to reveal her identity among the 22 who have filed lawsuits against the Texans QB since March 16. After she read her statement in front of TV cameras, one of her attorneys also revealed the name of a second woman who made similar allegations in a lawsuit – Lauren Baxley, who was identified as another therapist.
“I am a survivor of assault and harassment,” Solis said from the office of her attorney in Houston. “Deshaun Watson is my assaulter and my harasser. Deshaun Watson assaulted and harassed me on March 30th, 2020, in my own home doing what I felt was massage therapy. I am a licensed massage therapist. Now that the profession that I love so much has been forever tainted, I am deeply saddened but not surprised to see so many victim-blaming in the press and by online commenters.
“And they have absolutely no idea what I’m going through or what happened to me. No idea. This incident has affected me in many ways, and those ways are hard to describe. They are a range of emotions: guilt, embarrassment, shame, courage, anger, sadness and numbness. Some days I feel like a hero. Other days I feel like a failure.”
Like Solis, Baxley said in a letter read by her attorney that Watson reached out to her through Instagram to obtain her services. Baxley did not appear in front of cameras. Both are among 22 plaintiffs who have accused him sexual misconduct, including two who accuse him of sexual assault.
Many describe a similar pattern – that Watson initiated contact via Instagram to arrange for a massage session, then caused them to touch his genitals during the session.
Watson, 25, has not been arrested or criminally charged, and he and his attorney have broadly denied the allegations. After news of the first lawsuit was made public, Watson wrote on Twitter that attorney Tony Buzbee made a “baseless six-figure settlement demand” before filing suit. Watson also said he looked forward to clearing his name and that he has never treated a woman “with anything but the utmost respect.”
The lawsuits have all come from Buzbee’s law firm since March 16, and all were filed by plaintiffs under the pseudonym Jane Doe.
“I have been angry at you for so many reasons since that day in June,” Baxley said in a letter to Watson that was read by one of her attorneys. “I am furious that the talented and hard-working young Black man that gave so many children inspiration is nothing more than a predator with power. I am heartbroken for your family, for your loved ones, for those coming to terms with the fact that your charitable work and good-guy persona are nothing more than a meticulously designed façade to keep your victims silent and second-guessing themselves.”
The women seek compensatory damages and are described as licensed massage therapists, estheticians and other fitness and wellness professionals. Most of the alleged incidents took place in Houston, according to the lawsuits. Three others allegedly took place in California, Georgia and Arizona.
On Friday, the Houston Police Department said a report was filed against Watson and that it was investigating. Buzbee said the report was not from Solis but another client.
“We welcome this long overdue development,” Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, said in a statement Friday. “Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department.”
Hardin previously noted the lack of evidence submitted to police in these cases and said it was because Buzbee’s “parade of anonymous allegations could not survive the rigorous inquiry of trained investigators or the need to attest to the truth of the allegations under oath.”
Hardin also released a list of 18 named therapists who said Watson “never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage.”
Even if Watson is never charged with a crime, the NFL could suspend him for violations of its personal conduct policy, depending on the findings of its own investigation.
“The allegations are deeply disturbing and we take these issues very seriously,” the NFL said in a statement. “Immediately following news of the first allegations last month, and as has been reported, we initiated an investigation under the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. We are continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter.”
Contributing: Tom Schad