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Harris County district attorney: Lack of indictment by grand jury was not an exoneration of Deshaun Watson

Mike Florio shares why paid leave would be the NFL's best move for Deshaun Watson, and he and Charean Williams discuss how the league treats punishes players versus owners.

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

At the end of a podcast interview of Kim Ogg, Mike Melster gave her the floor, so that she could say anything about the situation that she’d like to say. Here’s what Ogg said: “We respect our justice process. I love the law. It’s 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, a grand jury no bill is not an exoneration. People, even when they clear the criminal justice system, often face accountability and repercussions in other parts of our legal system. And so I think to determine whether justice was done in this case you’re going to have to wait and see how it all comes out on the civil side of things and then through the NFL on the administrative side of things. And then people will determine whether that’s justice.”

That’s 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 as part of the broader quid pro quo inherent to the world of breaking transactions five minutes before they are announced, teams launched their pursuit of Watson.

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

Hooray for the Browns!

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

Ogg’s comments underscore the fact that no one should have gotten swept up in the chase for Watson’s contract, not without a settlement of all existing lawsuits and a commitment by Watson to quickly resolve any other claims that may surface. Say what you will about Dolphins owner Stephen Ross (and we’ll admit we’ve sat plenty), but he had the right idea -- all cases must be settled before a trade is made.

The Browns should have done the same thing. But with four teams falling all over themselves to get Watson, the Browns weren’t in a position to dictate terms. None of the four terms were.

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) make it known to the grand jury that, as Ogg said, Watson didn’t have to be indicted to face “accountability and repercussions in other parts of our legal system.” Again, it would have been very difficult to convict Watson with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, especially since he has the money to hire a dream team of defense counsel who would have if-it-doesn’t-fit-you-must-acquit-ted their way to win after win after win in criminal court.

Ogg’s point is that Watson’s reckoning (if any) will happen elsewhere. In civil court and/or in the Court of Roger Goodell. And she’s right.

Hopefully, that will be the final word on this knee-jerk notion that the lack of an indictment means the existence of innocence, from Hardin or anyone else. No indictment most definitely does not mean absolute innocence, and the person ultimately responsible for the presentation of these cases to a grand jury in Houston has said so herself.