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Harris County District Attorney: Lack of grand jury indictment was not an exoneration for Deshaun Watson

Harris County District Attorney: Lack of grand jury indictment was not an exoneration for Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson press conference

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Some, including attorney Rusty Hardin, want people to believe that the decision of a pair of Texas grand juries not to indict Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson means Watson has been exonerated. Harris County, Texas’ top law enforcement official disagrees.

At the end of a podcast interview with Kim Ogg, Mike Melster gave her the floor, so she could say whatever she wanted to say about the situation. Here is what Ogg said: “We respect our legal process. I like the law. It is designed to get to the truth. That’s really what people want. I don’t think as a culture we can live with injustice. Remember that a grand jury without a bill is not an exoneration. People, even when cleaning up the criminal justice system, often face responsibilities and repercussions in other parts of our justice system. And so I think to determine whether justice has been served in this case, you will have to wait and see how this all plays out on the civil side of things, and then by the NFL on the administrative side of things. And then people will determine if it’s justice.

This has always been the case. But once the Harris County grand jury decided not to indict Watson on nine criminal complaints in March, and thanks in part to a tweet that naively linked the absence of an indictment with proof of innocence within the framework of the misunderstanding inherent in the world of breakout deals five minutes before they were announced, the teams set off in pursuit of Watson.

After a weekend of reports about this team and this team and another team interested in Watson, the Panthers, Falcons, Saints and Browns have officially entered the four-team race. The Browns, after being the first team out, decided to go all-in with a fully guaranteed offer of $230 million over five years. It worked. The Browns got Watson.

Hooray for the Browns!

The exclamation point quickly became a question mark as reality came back into the equation. Twenty-two civil trials remained. An NFL investigation continued. The possibility of more lawsuits, more attention, more scrutiny, and more people noisily wondering what the Browns were thinking became, within three months, a reality.

Ogg’s comments underscore that no one should have gotten caught up in pursuing Watson’s contract, not without a settlement of all pending lawsuits and a commitment by 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 seen a lot of that), but he had the right idea – all cases must be settled before a trade is made.

The Browns should have done the same. But with four teams collapsing to get Watson, the Browns were in no position to dictate the terms. None of the four terms was.

Ogg’s comments also reinforce my belief that prosecutor Johna Stallings used the cover of the ridiculously secretive grand jury process to subtly (or otherwise) let the grand jury know that, as Ogg said, Watson had no need to be charged to face “responsibility and repercussions in other parts of our legal system. Again, it would have been very difficult to convict Watson with evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, especially since ‘he has the money to hire a dream team of defense attorneys who would if-it-wrong-you-have-to-pay-managed to win after win after win in criminal court.

Ogg’s point is that Watson’s calculation (if any) will happen elsewhere. In Civil Court and/or Roger Goodell Court. And she is right.

Hopefully, this will be the last word on that instinctual notion that the absence of an indictment means the existence of innocence, of Hardin or anyone else. No indictment certainly does not mean absolute innocence, and the person ultimately responsible for presenting these cases to a grand jury in Houston said so himself.

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