Bills punter accused in lawsuit of participating in gang rape

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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 during a party last October at Araiza’s off-campus residence during his redshirt junior season at SDSU. He won the Ray Guy award after the season as the nation’s best collegiate punter before declaring 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 file charges, according to the Los Angeles Times. No arrests have been made.

The university launched its own probe in July, according to a timeline posted on its website. SDSU said that while it was first informed of sexual assault allegations shortly after the party, campus officials held off on an investigation at the behest of the San Diego Police Department, which requested they not take “actions that might compromise its criminal investigation.”

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

Araiza, then 21, handed Doe a drink that allegedly contained not just alcohol but “other intoxicating substances,” according to the lawsuit. After learning from Doe that she was a high school student and thus likely to have been a minor, per the lawsuit, he is accused of leading her to a secluded area to engage in sexual intercourse. Araiza then brought her to a room that already had three men in it, according to the filing, including the two other named defendants, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard is listed on the Aztecs’ roster as a redshirt freshman; Ewaliko was on last season’s roster as a freshman. The lawsuit says both were approximately 18 at the time of the party.

According to the lawsuit, Doe “went in and out of consciousness while she was being raped.” She remembered multiple 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 approximately 1½ hours, per the filing, until the party was “shut down.” Bleeding and distraught, Doe found her friends and told them she had been raped, the lawsuit says. Within two days, she reported the episode to 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 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.”

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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 because the alleged events occurred before Araiza was drafted. If he commits a new violation as an NFL player, he could be subject to enhanced discipline if it is determined he had a history of misconduct.

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

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

The attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the now-18-year-old Doe told ESPN that the alleged episode 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,” the attorney, Dan Gilleon, said in a statement. “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.”

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

“To keep it silent … [while] the same people that are alleged to have done this have been allowed to roam free, graduate, continue to play in their sports,” he said then to the Los Angeles Times. “It drives me bonkers.”

The university said on its website that when it received anonymous submissions in October containing “third hand information about the alleged off-campus sexual assault,” it asked those making the submissions to meet with the school’s Title IX coordinator to provide more information, but that its requests were declined. Those providing anonymous information through December, the school said, were also asked to speak with San Diego police.

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

“Something like this sticks with you forever,” Doe told the L.A. Times last month. “And all I can really do now is just hope that I can get some sort of justice somehow and feel like people are facing consequences for their actions, because I feel like I’ve been facing the consequences for their actions.”

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

Mark Maske contributed to this report.



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