Some, including attorney Rusty Hardin, want people to believe that the decision by two Texas grand juries not to indict Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson means Watson was exonerated. The chief law enforcement officer in Harris County, Texas, disagrees.
At the end of a podcast interview with Kim Ogg, Mike Melster handed her the floor so she could say whatever she wanted to say about the situation. Here’s what Ogg said: “We respect our legal process. i love the law It is designed to get to the bottom of the truth. That’s really what people want. I don’t think we as a culture can live with injustice. Remember that a grand jury no bill is not an exoneration. People, even when they clarify the criminal justice system, often face accountability and repercussions in other parts of our legal system. I think to determine if justice was done in this case you’ll have to see how it all comes out on the civilian side of things and then through the NFL on the administrative side of things. And then people will decide if that is justice.”
It’s been like that forever. But when the Harris County grand jury ruled not to indict Watson on nine criminal charges in March, and thanks to part of a Tweet that links naively the lack of an indictment with proof of innocence as part of the further compensation Teams began chasing Watson five minutes before their announcement.
After a weekend of reports from this team and that and another team interested in Watson, the Panthers, Falcons, Saints and Browns officially entered the four-team race. After being the first team eliminated, the Browns decided to go all-in with a fully guaranteed five-year, $230 million offer. It worked. The Browns have Watson.
Hooray for the Browns!
The exclamation mark quickly became a question mark as reality crept back into the equation. Twenty-two civil suits remained. An NFL investigation continued. The possibility of more lawsuits and more attention and closer scrutiny and more people vociferating what the Browns were thinking became a reality within three months.
Ogg’s comments underscore the fact that no one should have been drawn into the hunt for Watson’s contract, not without a settlement of all outstanding legal disputes and a commitment from Watson to quickly resolve any other claims that may arise. Say what you will about Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (and we’ll admit we’ve sat a lot), but he had the right idea – all cases must be settled before a deal is made.
The Browns should have done the same. But with four teams falling all over themselves to get Watson, the Browns were unable to dictate terms. None of the four terms was.
Ogg’s comments also reinforce my belief that prosecutor Johna Stallings used the guise of the ridiculously mysterious grand jury trial to subtly (or otherwise) tell the grand jury that, as Ogg said, Watson did not need to be indicted, to “accountability and implications in other parts of our legal system.” Again, it would have been very difficult to convict Watson with undoubted evidence, especially since he has the money to hire a dream team of defense attorneys who would have done it if-it-does-not-fit-you-must-speak-free-ted her way to win in criminal court.
Ogg’s point is that Watson’s reckoning (if any) will take place elsewhere. In civil court and/or in Roger Goodell’s court. And she’s right.
Hopefully this will be the final word on this knee-jerk notion that the lack of charges means the existence of innocence, on the part of Hardin or anyone else. No indictment certainly does not mean absolute innocence, and the person ultimately responsible for bringing these cases before a Houston grand jury has said so himself.