HOUSTON -- Two of the 22 women who have filed lawsuits against Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson alleging sexual assault and inappropriate behavior came forward publicly during a news conference Tuesday.
Ashley Solis, who lawyer Tony Buzbee said was the first massage therapist to file a lawsuit against Watson on March 16, spoke in the news conference. Lauren Baxley wrote a letter to Watson that was read by lawyer Cornelia Brandfield-Harvey, who works at Buzbee's law firm.
"I got into massage therapy to heal people," Solis said. "To heal their minds and bodies. To bring peace to their souls. Deshaun Watson has robbed me of that. He took that away from me, he tainted a profession in which I take enormous pride. ... I suffer from panic attacks, anxiety and depression. I'm in counseling as a result of Deshaun Watson's actions. I hope he knows how much pain he's inflicted on me emotionally and physically. And I hope he knows how much pain he's inflicted on these other survivors."
"People say that I'm doing this just for money," Solis said. "That is false. I come forward now so that Deshaun Watson does not assault another woman."
In response to Tuesday's news conference, Rusty Hardin's law firm, which is representing Watson, said in a statement that Buzbee's firm "sought $100,000 in hush money on behalf of Ms. Solis to quietly settle the allegations the month before he filed the first lawsuit."
The statement also included an email exchange between the Buzbee Law Firm and a representative for Watson, lawyer Scott Gaffield. The communications were dated between Feb. 3 and Feb. 19, 2021.
"My email exchanges with Mr. Buzbee and Ms. Brandfield-Harvey were very clear," Gaffield said in a written statement. "We did not think that the facts showed that Deshaun did anything wrong with their client. We believed then -- and fully believe now -- that Deshaun learned a lesson about putting himself in this type of situation by interacting with people he does not know.
"As the emails show, we were willing to continue discussions on Deshaun's behalf to explore ways to prevent a lawsuit and a public spectacle. But Mr. Buzbee informed us that he was unwilling to do so. We expect that this matter will be resolved in court."
In a statement Tuesday, NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy called the allegations against Watson "deeply disturbing," noting, "we take these issues very seriously."
McCarthy said that the league launched an investigation under its personal conduct policy last month after the first allegations and that the NFL is "continuing to closely monitor all developments in the matter."
A source told ESPN's Ed Werder that the NFL has been in direct contact with Buzbee.
In her letter addressing Watson, Baxley wrote, "Every boundary from professional and therapeutic to sexual and degrading you crossed or attempted to cross."
Baxley said she wrote the letter to Watson at the recommendation of her trauma therapist to "forgive myself for not speaking up sooner" and also "so that you can know without excuse or justification that you have deeply and irreversibly brought terror to me and others."
"I initially came forward to offer solidarity to other women, but I have since realized that I'm deserving of justice as well," Baxley wrote. "I hope the court of law brings that justice, and that you're stripped of both your power and ability to hurt more women."
Last week, 18 women released statements through Hardin, saying that they have worked with the Texans quarterback and that he "never made them feel uncomfortable or demanded anything outside the scope of a professional massage."
Watson's attorney said the statements were voluntary and were from women who have collectively "worked with Deshaun more than 130 times over the past five years."
On Tuesday, Buzbee said one of the women who gave one of those statements also sent a direct message concerning Watson, saying she stopped working with him because she was "hearing too much stuff about him messing with other people."
"That's two different stories," Buzbee said. "Now, am I suggesting that the 18 women had bad experiences? I don't know. Am I suggesting there's a reason they came forward? I don't know. That's a question for you to ask. But what I do know is that what was said publicly by this one individual and what was said privately were two completely different things."
Buzbee also said his firm has turned away five other women who approached it with cases against Watson because the firm couldn't substantiate their claims.
According to Buzbee, Solis and at least one other of his clients have provided statements to the police. On Friday, the Houston Police Department said in a statement that it has launched an investigation of Watson after a complainant filed a report.
"As with any allegation, the Houston Police Department is now conducting an investigation and will not comment further during the investigative process," the department said in a statement. It did not specify what Watson is being accused of in the complaint.
Hardin said in a statement later on Friday that he and Watson will "fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department."
"We welcome this long overdue development," Hardin said. "Now we will learn the identity of at least one accuser. We will fully cooperate with the Houston Police Department."
In a letter Monday to Texans season-ticket holders that is regularly sent in the spring, the McNair family addressed the civil lawsuits and a complaint filed with the Houston Police Department against Watson, saying, "We want to assure you that we take these allegations very seriously.
"While we await the conclusion of these investigations, we express our strong stance against any form of sexual assault," the letter reads. "Our family and the entire Houston Texans organization are deeply troubled by any form of abuse and we condemn this type of behavior."