A Houston police detective testified this week that she believed Deshaun Watson committed crimes after investigating 10 criminal complaints against him, according to a pretrial deposition transcript obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
The detective, Kamesha Baker, said she expressed her opinion to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. But she wasn’t called to testify before the grand jury in Harris County, Texas, and doesn’t know why the grand jury didn’t indict the Cleveland Browns quarterback on criminal charges. She said she believed Watson committed criminal indecent assault, sexual assault and prostitution in cases where money was exchanged and there was consensual sex.
“Did you feel confident that you had the evidence needed to pursue those charges?” Baker was asked in the deposition.
“Yes,” Baker said.
“And was there any doubt in your mind as the investigating officer that a crime had occurred?”
“No,” Baker said.
Baker testified in a pretrial deposition for the civil litigation against Watson in Houston, where he has been sued by 24 women who have accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions in 2020 and early 2021. Eight of those women also filed complaints with Houston police about Watson’s conduct, in addition to two other women who filed police complaints who have not sued Watson in civil court.
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Watson, 26, never was arrested or charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.
Baker said she met with prosecutor Johna Stallings at the district attorney’s office.
“I expressed to her that we did find the complainants credible and reliable,” Baker testified, according to the transcript. “That’s why we did a warrant that stated they were credible and reliable.”
“Was there any disagreement amongst your team or the police that a crime had occurred?” asked Tony Buzbee, the attorney for the women.
“No,” Baker said.
Baker declined additional comment through a spokesman for the Houston police.
Baker said in her testimony that Stallings told her she would take the evidence to the grand jury in Harris County. In March, two separate grand juries declined to indict him on criminal charges after being presented evidence of his alleged misconduct. The first grand jury was in Harris County and was presented complaints filed with Houston police by nine women against him. The second one was in Brazoria County south of Houston. It was presented with only one complaint against him, from a woman who gave Watson massages at her mother’s home in November 2020.
Watson’s legal team had serious issues with this detective’s testimony, noting that she admitted to believing the women at the outset, arguably creating an unfair presumption of guilt for Watson. Watson’s lead counsel, Rusty Hardin, also got Baker to admit it was possible the prosecutor had considerably more evidence at her disposal than Baker did.
“The presumption of innocence is a fundamental tenet of our justice system,” Leah Graham, another one of Watson’s attorneys, said in a statement Friday. “It is incredibly unfortunate that this presumption was not given to Deshaun Watson by one of the investigating officers. Ultimately, however, justice was served by two grand juries in two separate jurisdictions who did what this detective refused to do: take a fair and impartial look at all of the evidence before reaching a conclusion.”
In her deposition, Baker noted some of the cases were stronger than others. In two cases, she wanted sexual assault charges but noted she didn’t think the grand jury would support those charges because there wasn’t enough evidence.
“Two of them we considered sexual assault because of the way the statute is written that speaks specifically to coercion and we felt that there was enough to insinuate that power and influence was in the room and it was coercive,” Baker testified. “And when power and influence is in the room, consent cannot be.”
‘Appeared to be a pattern’
Baker said she investigated all 10 cases, including the case in Brazoria County, which Baker described as a “really powerful and compelling account.” Baker said she testified in that proceeding, but not before the grand jury in Harris County, which was the most consequential for Watson.
Graham, Watson’s attorney, noted Baker testified “at length” in Brazoria County but concluded there was no probable cause to believe a crime had been committed.
“While I appreciate the detective’s honesty, her admitted bias and refusal to honor the law is unacceptable and should cause everyone serious concern,” Graham said of Baker.
Baker made her position clear to Buzbee.
“Did you believe a crime had occurred with regard to all 10 of the complainants?” Buzbee asked her.
“Yes,” Baker replied.
Baker testified about one woman who did not sue Watson but filed a complaint with police. Baker said sometimes that woman got paid by Watson and sometimes not.
“Where it was consensual sex, well, that would be prostitution,” Baker said.
“Did you raise that with the DA?” Buzbee asked, referring to the district attorney.
“Yes, but we would charge both of them,” Baker replied. “Because, I mean, I don’t – I’m – honestly when I’m working a case, it’s about if the crime was committed. Right. So they would have both been charged.”
“Did you charge them?”
“No, we didn’t charge anyone because I didn’t – I don’t get to make the charge,” Baker said.
Hardin asked her if the women always gets the benefit of the doubt with her in such cases.
“I start by believing all the victims,” Baker replied. “Absolutely. Stand by that 100 percent. Anyone investigating a sex crime should start by believing the complainant. Provided defense provides something that refutes it, we’re going to believe that complainant.”
“So in your world of investigation, the defendant always has to prove his innocence?” Hardin asked her.
“Yes,” Baker said.
She did not interview Watson, who was not made available to her. She also said she didn’t immediately think he was guilty.
“What I can say is there appeared to be a pattern of an attempt to make the massage session sexual,” she testified. Among the clues she cited was Watson’s “towel trick” of trying to use a small towel that women have said falls aside and exposes himself to them.
After the decision not to indict him in Harris County, NFL teams practically lined up to bid for his services after he spent the 2021 season sidelined and under a cloud of allegations with the Houston Texans. The Browns won the sweepstakes, giving him a record guaranteed contract of $230 million over five years.
But Buzbee has expressed skepticism about just how deeply that grand jury looked at those cases. He said only one of the Harris County complainants was called in to testify even though others were subpoenaed and ready to appear. That was Ashley Solis, the first woman to sue Watson in March 2021.
“They didn’t even hear from the investigator,” Tony Buzbee told USA TODAY Sports on June 3, referring to Baker. Buzbee also said the prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office “would hardly talk to my people and wouldn’t return my call.”
“Did you expect that you would appear yourself in front of the grand jury?” Buzbee asked Baker in the deposition.
“I figured that because of the amount of data that we had collected, the fact that we had not received the Cash App records back yet that it was probable that I would go because it was just a lot of information that we gathered,” Baker replied.
The Harris County grand jury
Baker also said she was “upset” she did not get to testify before the Harris County grand jury.
“I did want an indictment as I do with any case that I work,” Baker testified. “If I’m working that hard and I feel that the evidence I have supports the charge, yes, I want a charge.”
Baker said Stallings told her not to interview other women who filed lawsuits against Watson but did not file criminal complaints with police.
“What did she say?” Hardin asked her in the deposition.
“The gist of it was because Hardin would have some objections,” she replied.
“Hardin would have some objections?” Hardin asked.
“You would have some objection,” Baker said to Hardin.
“What objections would I have?” Hardin said.
“I don’t know,” Baker said. “You – I can’t – I’m just telling you what was told.”
The Harris County District Attorney’s Office provided a statement to USA TODAY Sports Friday.
“Under state law it’s up to Grand Jurors to determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence for an indictment,” the statement said. “That is their role. Senior prosecutors spoke extensively with the complainants and ensured all of the evidence was presented to Grand Jurors for consideration. It’s also exclusively up to Grand Jurors to determine who they want to hear from in person. All complainants were summoned to the Grand Jury. Grand jurors are allowed to ask to hear the testimony of anyone they want and the DA’s office always seeks to facilitate that testimony to the extent possible.”
Buzbee said Hardin provided the prosecutor a “PowerPoint” to use with grand jury. Whether it was shown to the grand jury is not known. Grand jury proceedings are conducted under secrecy and are led by prosecutors, who generally have wide latitude in how aggressively they push a grand jury to indict. The defendants and their attorneys are not normally present to put up a rebuttal in these proceedings, as they weren’t in the case of Watson.
Baker declined additional comment through a spokesman with the Houston police.
If the prosecutors at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office didn’t think the evidence was sufficient to prove Watson’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at a subsequent criminal trial, it’s possible they weren’t aggressive with their presentation to the grand jury. The grand jury is tasked with deciding whether to indict on criminal charges, sending the case on a track for tria l.
Hardin also said he heard Solis was the only complainant who testified before the Harris County grand jury. Stallings said afterward that prosecutors presented evidence and testimony to the grand jury for over six hours related to nine criminal complaints against Watson.
“My sense is, without knowing this for sure, she (the prosecutor) gave the grand jury the choice of whether they would like to hear from (more of) them,” Hardin told USA TODAY Sports June 2, referring to the other complainants in Harris County.
Hardin said it’s “not odd” if the grand jury heard only one complainant testify but also declined to indict on complaints from eight other women.
“I can tell you as a matter of practice it’s not odd at all,” Hardin said. “Secondly, the grand jury gets to make the decision about these things. If you look at the facts, they weren’t crimes. They don’t meet the elements of a crime, of any crime.”
Houston police had been investigating Watson for indecent assault, a misdemeanor, according to court records. Indecent assault is defined in the Texas penal code as generally touching the private parts of another person, touching another person with private parts, exposing private parts or causing another person to contact seminal fluid or urine without consent.
It’s not known what charges the grand jury considered. In the lawsuits, Watson is generally accused of exposing himself to these women during massage sessions, causing his genitals to touch them and in some cases coercing them and ejaculating on them.
Graham told USA TODAY Sports June 2 that Watson’s legal team fully cooperated with the police investigation.
“They had every deposition transcript we had available, every document that had produced in the case that had been produced by either side,” Graham said. “I have to imagine that HPD would have given that to the DA, and the DA – we don’t know what was presented – I have to imagine they would have presented all that deposition testimony and documentary evidence to the grand jury.”
Solis, who testified in front of the Harris County grand jury, was asked in an interview with HBO recently about why the grand jury didn’t indict. She accused Watson of exposing himself and causing his genitals to touch her, leading her to cry and cut the massage short.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Solis replied. “I don’t see how any of those human beings could have sat there in front of me and think what he did was OK.”
In a statement, Buzbee said Baker’s transcript “speaks for itself.”
“We will be taking the deposition of the other officer assigned to the case soon,” he said. “We continue to collect information, and it continues to make our case stronger.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org