Bills punter Matt Araiza accused of rape in civil lawsuit in California

Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza and two former college teammates at San Diego State University have been accused in a California civil lawsuit of gang raping a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus party last fall.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in San Diego County Superior Court, alleges Araiza, then 21, had sex with the minor outside of a home where he had been living and then brought her inside to a room where she was repeatedly raped in the early hours of Oct. 17.

The suit alleges the then-high school senior identified as “Jane Doe” went in and out of consciousness but remembers moments as the men assaulted her. The others named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard and Nowlin Ewaliko. Leonard is on the San Diego State fall roster as a redshirt freshman. Ewaliko was on the team last year but is not on this fall’s roster.

According to the complaint, the woman had already been drinking with friends when she arrived at the home and was “observably intoxicated.” The woman said Araiza handed her a drink at the party that she believed “not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicating substances,” the suit said. She also said she told Araiza that she was in high school. He then led her to a side yard where he asked her to perform oral sex and then had sex with her, the suit said, before leading her inside.  

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The suit said she told her friends after the incident and went to the police the next day. The complaint said she waited for about five hours before an officer spoke to her. She was then taken a hospital for a rape exam.

The Los Angeles Times first reported the lawsuit.

Araiza, 22, was a fifth-round draft pick of the Bills in May. He earned the nickname “Punt God” for his prolific punting in college. He won the Ray Guy Award as the outstanding punter in the nation last season. Araiza won a competition to be the team’s punter over veteran Matt Haack this week.

The Bills released the following statement: “We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021. Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter. As this is an ongoing civil case, we will have no other comment at this point.”

Araiza’s San Diego-based attorney, Kerry Armstrong, told the Los Angeles Times he hadn’t reviewed the complaint but called the rape accusation false. He said his investigator spoke to witnesses from the party who contradict the allegations against Araiza.

“It’s a shakedown because he’s now with the Buffalo Bills,” Armstrong told the Times. “There is no doubt in my mind that Matt Araiza ever raped that girl.”

Armstrong did not return a message from The Buffalo News. 

Attorneys for Leonard and Ewaliko told The Times they could not comment. 

Dan Gilleon, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, released a statement saying: “This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often. What makes these crimes different is not only that they were committed by self-entitled athletes. Just as awful as the crimes, for months, multiple organizations – SDSU, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego District Attorney, and now the Buffalo Bills – have acted the part of enablers looking the other way in denial that my client deserves justice even if the defendants are prized athletes.” 

Regarding the allegation of a “shakedown,” Gilleon told The Buffalo News that Armstrong “offered him money before he made the cut” this week, winning the job over Haack.

“We ignored the offer,” Gilleon told The News. “We’ve never demanded a penny from him.”

Gilleon also posted a screenshot of a text message apparently from Armstrong that stated “his very nice parents have asked to reach out to you and ask what number your client is looking for.”

Armstrong texted Gilleon on July 30 after Gilleon attempted to contact Araiza, according to text messages that Gilleon posted on Twitter. “Are you replying to my message to Araiza or my emails to the Bills,” read the texts released by Gilleon.

Gilleon provided The News an email he sent to the Bills on July 31 informing the team of the allegations and the impending civil litigation.

An investigation by the Los Angeles Times in June found that the campus community was not alerted by the university about the alleged rape and waited more than seven months to launch its own investigation. That June report did not have information on specific players allegedly involved.

No arrests have been made. San Diego police have not publicly identified any suspects. The Times reported that detectives recently submitted their investigation to the San Diego County district attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed.

Araiza is not subject to punishment from the NFL because the alleged assault happened before he was drafted. Alleged misconduct that occurs before a player enters the NFL is not included in the terms of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy agreed to by the players union.

Araiza is the only punter on the roster for the Bills’ final exhibition game Friday night against the Carolina Panthers.



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