Though two Texas grand juries refused to bring criminal charges for sexual assault and harassment against DeShaun Watson, the Cleveland Browns’ new quarterback may not have escaped legal trouble just yet.
Under the shadow of suspicion, Watson was sidelined for the entire 2021 season. He has since been traded to Cleveland, and it appears that he has gotten off scot-free from 22 criminal charges of sexual misconduct against massage therapists.
However, a Texas attorney who specializes in such cases, Michelle Simpson Tuegel told Fox News Digital it could be a whole different ball game for the ex-Houston QB if and when legal action against him moves to the civil courts. It won’t be powder-puff allegations there, as it appears to have been in the criminal cases.
Tuegel said people typically assume that when the accused escape criminal prosecution, people routinely assume they are innocent. In her practice, she sees it differently, because some 80 percent of her clients got justice only in criminal cases.
I think where people really miss certain things is that the criminal process commonly fails adult survivors and the burden of proof in a criminal case is a lot higher than in a civil case or in an administrative investigation – like what the NFL conducted or what schools conduct for sexual assault on campus – a similar administrative type of investigation of sexual misconduct.
One of Tuegel’s clients won a $44 million civil lawsuit after a grand jury refused to indict the perp.
"The burden of and the evidence that is required for the civil claim is different,” she added.
Watson may yet face months, or even years, of legal charges and fan opposition. Tuegel says that, by acquiring Watson, the Browns and the NFL are sending a “chilling” message to sexual assault victims. It’s nothing new for the NFL.
Through the years, Tuegel has seen a “repeated pattern of the NFL favoring athletes over and at the expense of victims and I think especially in this MeToo or post-MeToo era, the NFL to some degree is trying to save face by giving the impression that they’re conducting an investigation and so their decisions and his $230 million contract are OK. But I think what’s missed there is this investigation and even in their admission, does not include speaking in depth with the victims" during their independent investigation.
The Browns did acknowledge the trade was difficult for many people, especially women in their local community. They understand the "range of emotions," too, Browns General Manager Andrew Berry stated. Nevertheless, he said the organization got "comfortable" in completing the trade. In other words, get out there and win ball games for us, Watson.
Tuegel accused the Browns of merely wanting to protect athletes who can win games and make money for them, rather than seriously digging into allegations.
"It has a chilling effect, not just on these women, but other survivors who are looking at this really public case," Tuegel said.
It’s not a pleasant process for the women involved and the women watching how this situation is being handled by NFL teams. But, Watson continues to deny any wrongdoing. Perhaps everything will come out in the wash if he eventually faces civil court proceedings.