Although Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson was not indicted on any of 10 criminal complaints made against him, Houston Police Department detective Kamesha Baker testified last week that she believed based on her investigation that Watson committed multiple crimes. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports has obtained a copy of the Baker deposition transcript, which is not subject to any type of court order. I have analyzed it throughly.
Three important points stand out. They’re summarized below.
First, attorney Rusty Hardin’s questioning advances the misguided notion (as articulated last week by co-counsel Leah Graham) that the presumption of innocence applicable at trial should also apply in the investigative phase. Hardin and Graham essentially believe that, when a women makes a criminal complaint alleging sexual misconduct, the response by law enforcement should be skepticism and cynicism, not support and comfort.
Consider how, under Hardin’s and Graham’s view of the system, things would go if/when a woman makes a criminal complaint of sexual misconduct. “Sorry, ma’am, but we are required to presume that the accused is innocent, so you’d better have something more substantial than your own story of what happened.”
That’s just not how it works. Yes, it’s for the police to make a basic credibility assessment of the accuser. That’s part of what the police are trained to do. And if the person making the complaint seems credible to those with the skill and experience in such matters, that’s enough to proceed. If the suspects choose to exercise his constitutional right to remain silent, what are the police supposed to do? Abandon the case?
No, that makes no sense. But it makes plenty of sense that Hardin and Graham (and Watson) would want it that way. It provides the clearest path to their insistence that Watson did nothing wrong.
Second, Detective Baker’s testimony focused at times on the difference between consent and coercion. Baker argued that various facts inherent to the difference in size and stature of Watson and the women he hired on Instagram to provide him with private massages makes it difficult to consent. That any sexual activity that occurred could have indeed resulted from implicit concern about what would happen if the massage therapist declined Watson’s effort to pivot from massage to sexual encounter.
Third, the cases necessarily come down to the word of each woman against Watson because that’s how the massage sessions were structured. That’s apparently how Watson wanted these massages to proceed. Two people in the room. Not one else. As a result, there was never a witness to corroborate the version of either participant.
If Watson was truly looking only for massages, his protection should have come not from a nondisclosure agreement supplied by the Texans’ director of security but from a third person who could break the tie if the massage therapist later claimed something inappropriate occurred. The circumstances that he arranged necessarily result in the cases boiling down to one person’s word against another’s. And Hardin, as part of his effort to prove that all 24 (soon to be 26 and eventually to perhaps be more) women are lying suggests that the police — and everyone else — should just presume they are.
That’s why the raw number of accusations becomes relevant, and persuasive. If it was just one person, fine. But when it’s 24 or 26 and more, all of whom are telling basically the same story of a massage that went in a different direction, Watson’s reliance on talking points about never assaulting, never disrespecting, never doing anything wrong become harder to accept. Especially when considering Hardin’s claim from two weeks ago that there’s no crime in getting a “happy ending,” or in trying to.
These cases against Watson all flow from his alleged effort to try to make massages into sexual activity. All but three declined. The three who did apparently claim there was no true consent.
It’s impossible to ignore the raw numbers. If, as Hardin and Graham seem to believe, these cases are each meritless to the point of frivolous and were instigated by a Pied Piper who’s looking for a payday and prominence, there surely would be cracks in the foundation by now. Eighteen of the plaintiffs were poised to get (before fees and expenses) $100,000 each last year. They didn’t. Common sense says that at least one of them would be agitating for money that she thought she was getting last year, if this truly was about shaking cash out of Watson.
Hardin and Graham would likely argue that Buzbee has held the plaintiffs together with the promise that they’ll get more later. Again, common sense suggests that, if this really were one big ruse aimed at targeting Watson for “extortion” or whatever other term they’d use to describe the cases, someone would have out of ranks or spoken out of turn by now. Instead, the ranks keep building—and the plaintiffs keep sticking together.
If they aren’t, and if Hardin and Graham want the league, the media, the fans, and ultimately the juries to know that, they need to be harvesting evidence to that effect and making it known to those in a position to spread the word. Instead, the only thing spreading is the raw number of cases pending against Watson.
Either he’s the victim of an unprecedented witch hunt against a rich and famous pro athlete, or he’s a predator. At this point, there’s no middle ground.