Bills’ Matt Araiza, two SDSU teammates charged in gang rape trial

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Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza is among three former and current San Diego State football players named in a lawsuit accusing them of participating in the gang rape of a minor.

The incident allegedly happened at a party last October at Araiza’s off-campus residence hall during his redshirt junior season at SDSU. He won the Ray Guy award after the season as the top college bettor in the nation before declaring himself for the NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Bills in the sixth round.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office is weighing evidence recently submitted by detectives to determine whether to press charges, according to the Los Angeles Times. No arrests were made.

The university launched its own investigation in July, according to a chronology published on its website. SDSU said that although it was first made aware of the sexual assault allegations shortly after the party, campus officials suspended an investigation at the request of the San Diego Police Department, which told them asked not to take “any actions that could compromise his criminal investigation”.

According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff, then 17 and identified in a California Superior Court filing as Jane Doe, went out with friends that night to find pre-Halloween parties. The address of the event in question had been posted on Snapchat, according to the filing, and by the time Doe and her companions arrived she was “visibly drunk.”

Araiza, then 21, handed Doe a drink that contained not only alcohol but “other intoxicants,” according to the lawsuit. After learning from Doe that she was a high school student and therefore likely to have been underage, according to the lawsuit, he is accused of driving her to a secluded place to have sex. Araiza then brought her to a room that already contained three men, according to the record, including the other two named defendants, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard is listed on the Aztecs listing as a redshirt freshman; Ewaliko was on last season listing In first year. The lawsuit says the two were around 18 at the time of the party.

According to the lawsuit, Doe “lost consciousness while being raped.” She recalled several men having sex with her and seeing “a light in her periphery as if someone was taking a video using a cell phone,” the lawsuit says. The ordeal continued for about an hour and a half, according to the record, until the party was “closed.” Bleeding and distraught, Doe found her friends and told them she had been raped, according to the lawsuit. Within two days, she reported the episode to the police.

“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” the Bills said Thursday in a statement. “Due to the seriousness of the complaint, we have conducted a thorough review of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil matter, we will have no further comment at this stage.

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The NFL said it was “aware” of the matter but had no immediate comment. The league’s personal conduct policy would not apply as the alleged events occurred before Araiza was drafted. If he commits another violation as an NFL player, he could face enhanced discipline if it is determined he had a history of misconduct.

Kerry Armstrong, an attorney for Araiza, told the Los Angeles Times he had not seen the complaint. He described the rape accusation as false and said his investigator spoke to witnesses at the party who contradicted the allegations.

“It’s a shakedown because he’s with the Buffalo Bills now,” Armstrong said.

The lawyer who filed the lawsuit on Doe’s behalf, now 18, said ESPN that the alleged episode was “a horrible crime, the kind of which happens too often”.

“What makes these crimes different is not just that they were committed by self-proclaimed athletes,” attorney Dan Gilleon said in a statement. “Just as gruesome as the crimes, for months several organizations — SDSU, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego District Attorney, and now the Buffalo Bills — have acted as look-averting enablers in the denial that my client deserves justice even though the defendants are renowned athletes.

In July, Doe’s father criticized SDSU for waiting months to launch its investigation.

“To keep him quiet… [while] the same people who would have done this were allowed to move freely, to graduate, to continue playing their sport, ”he told the then Los Angeles Times. “It makes me crazy.”

The University said on his website that when he received anonymous submissions in October containing “third-hand information about the alleged off-campus sexual assault,” he asked those submitting the submissions to meet with the title IX coordinator of the school to provide more information, but that its requests were declined. Those who provided anonymous information through December, the school said, were also asked to speak to San Diego police.

Describing the Title IX investigation that began last month as “an administrative process that determines only whether college or university policy has been violated,” SDSU said it “trusts the process of more powerful criminal investigation and continues to comply with the SDPD”.

“Something like this will stay with you forever,” Doe told the LA Times last month. “And all I can really do now is just hope that I can get some kind of justice somehow and feel like people face the consequences of their actions, because that I feel like I’ve faced the consequences of their actions.”

Araiza, dubbed the “Punt God” for his booming kicks, won the Bills’ starting job in a training camp battle with outgoing veteran Matt Haack, who was released on Monday.

Mark Maske contributed to this report.

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