HOUSTON — Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is now facing a 23rd civil lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct, following a new filing by attorney Tony Buzbee.
The suit has been brought by Nia Smith, a professionally licensed Houston cosmetologist who last summer spoke publicly about her alleged interactions with Watson during a video appearance with YouTube personality Tasha K. Her suit has similarities to the previous 22 Watson is facing, alleging that Watson reached out to her for a professional massage through social media. The litigation states that she had three sessions with Watson that saw his behavior allegedly become more aggressive with each meeting, culminating in sexual advances and unwanted sexual contact.
It goes on to claim that Watson’s defense team reached out to Smith for a meeting when women began filing civil suits against the quarterback in March of 2021, an engagement that Smith took as an attempt to influence her from pursuing litigation against Watson. In that allegation, Smith accused one of Watson’s attorneys of suggesting “us black women must stick together.”
In a statement Tuesday, Buzbee added: “Other cases may come. The Watson defense team has vilified these women and this cause. Shame on them! We look forward to trying this case in court.”
Watson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, responded with a biting statement, again framing the development as an attempt to achieve “publicity” for Buzbee and a “payday” for his clients.
“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. “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 two highly respected lawyers from our firm, Letitia Quinones and Rachel Lewis, also vehemently deny there was any coercion or intimidation involved in the very cordial meeting at Vic and Anthony’s (Mr. Buzbee and the plaintiff are not even right about where the meeting was, much less what was said). They met her to see if she was one of Mr. Buzbee’s then still anonymous plaintiffs. At that time Mr. Buzbee refused to identify his clients. The suggestion that either of these two accomplished lawyers would have said ‘us black women must stick together’ is absurd. The interview was so congenial, she joined the lawyers for dinner afterwards.
“We are aware that more than a year ago she had other lawyers representing her and they ultimately terminated the representation. This plaintiff has long had a vendetta against Deshaun since she jealously and angrily published Deshaun’s personal data on social media in November 2020. In filing her lawsuit now she was obviously not influenced by recent developments. 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.”
Smith’s suit states that she initially declined to seek litigation against Watson out of fear of a backlash before changing her mind after seeing last week’s episode of "Real Sports," which featured two of Watson’s accusers speaking on the record about their alleged encounters with him.
“Nia Smith changed her mind after watching the HBO Real Sports piece about the Deshaun Watson lawsuits,” the suit states. “In that piece, Plaintiff was struck by the courage of the victims willing to step forward and speak, and was extremely displeased by Watson and his legal team’s mistreatment and revictimization of the Plaintiffs. But it was Watson himself claiming that even now he has 'no regrets' and has done nothing wrong that solidified her resolve.”
Smith goes on to allege that her former employer played a part in setting up the interactions with Watson, then ignored her complaints following the sessions.
“‘A New U Salon Spa’ provided women for Watson,” the lawsuit states. “Dionne Louis, the owner of the spa, facilitated massages for Watson and knew Watson and knew Watson was attempting [to] have sex with them. Plaintiff expressed her concerns about Watson to Ms. Louis. Louis brushed the concerns off. It was later learned that Watson paid Dionne Louis at least five thousand dollars for Louis’s ‘work’.”
The allegation included a pair of exhibits filed with the suit, allegedly showing texts from Louis. The first showed an alleged $5,000 cash transfer from Watson with a memo of “For machine” followed by a text from Louis stating, “He didn’t give me the 20k I asked him for but he dye [sic] give me 5k.” A second exhibit showed two photos of what appeared to be a significant amount of cash in rubber bands, preceded by a text stating “DD cash me out.”
Louis called the allegations “ludicrous” when reached by USA Today.
Watson has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing as the previous suits have unfolded. Hardin has also maintained that any sexual contact with women in the suits was consensual. Thus far, two grand juries in Texas have declined to indict Watson on criminal charges, following at least 10 complaints brought to the Houston Police Department by women engaged in litigation against the quarterback.
This latest suit comes as the NFL is drawing its investigation into Watson to a close. It was expected that the league would forward its findings to an independent disciplinary officer to determine whether Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy. Watson’s camp and the Browns were hopeful that a determination would be made by the time the team kicks off training camp in July.