Former “Punt God” Matt Araiza and two other San Diego State University football players are accused in a new lawsuit of raping a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus party — the first time the alleged assailants have been named.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, said he hadn’t reviewed the complaint but called the rape accusation false.
“It’s a shakedown because he’s now with the Buffalo Bills. There is no doubt in my mind,” Armstrong told the paper, that Araiza didn’t rape the teen.
San Diego attorney Dan Gilleon filed the civil suit Thursday in San Diego Superior Court on behalf of “Jane Doe,” the alleged victim.
“This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often,” Gilleon told Times of San Diego. “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.”
Araiza is now a rookie with the Bills.
In a statement, the Bills said: “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 legal, we will have no other comment at this point.”
San Diego State officials issued this statement:
“The university takes allegations of sexual assault seriously. As this involves an active university investigation, and given laws governing privacy (FERPA), the university is not able to provide specific details regarding its investigation. However, SDSU’s independent investigative process remains active and is ongoing following California State University systemwide policy: CSU Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Exploitation, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation (Nondiscrimination Policy). If a student is found to be in violation of the student code of conduct, as the result of a thorough investigation, disciplinary action includes but is not limited to suspension, dismissal or expulsion.”
Also named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard is a redshirt freshman and Ewaliko was on the team last year as a freshman but is not on the current roster, the Times reported.
About 8 p.m., the school released a 300-word “Dear SDSU Community” letter signed by President Adela de la Torre, athletic director John David Wicker and head football coach Brady Hoke.
“If you know or become aware of someone being sexually assaulted, we urge you to report it,” said the letter. “SDSU offers a range of reporting tools to share information about sexual assault and sexual violence, and we offer direct support and assistance to individuals who may have been harmed.”
The suit alleges rape, gender violence and false imprisonment among other things, including premises liability.
The nine-page suit asks special and general damages, punitive damages, civil penalties and attorneys’ fees, among other things.
“During the early morning hours of Sunday, October 17, 2021, Defendants Araiza, Leonard and Ewaliko gang-raped Doe, then a 17-year-old minor, inside the Residence during a Halloween party,” the suit began, adding graphic details.
Doe, a Grossmont High School student, became separated from friends and was approached by Araiza, “who could observe that Doe was heavily intoxicated. He handed her a drink anyway. Doe did not see Araiza pour her drink, but she accepted the drink and began consuming it. Upon information and belief, this drink not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicating substances,” the suit says.
“Despite her age and inebriated state, Araiza led Doe over to the side yard of the house where he told her to perform oral sex on him. She got on her knees and complied,” the suit alleges. “Araiza pulled her up from the ground, turned her around facing away from the party, and used his penis to penetrate her vagina from behind.”
The suit says Araiza, now 22, led Doe inside the house, past the living room and into a bedroom.
“There were at least three other men already in the bedroom, including defendants Leonard and Ewaliko,” the suit says. “Once inside, Araiza threw Doe onto the bed face first. Doe went in and out of consciousness while she was being raped, but she does remember some moments from the horrific gang rape. During this time, her phone was also taken. The men took turns having sex with her from behind while she lay face first on the mattress.”
The suit says Doe went to the San Diego Police Department’s Eastern Division on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, to report the assault.
“Despite the egregious and violent nature of the crimes she reported to the front desk personnel, Doe waited approximately five hours before an officer came out to speak with her,” the suit says. “Once the patrol officer recognized that Doe was a victim of a serious crime, she was taken to a hospital to undergo painful and humiliating SART examinations.”
Police arranged to have Doe make a “pretext call” with Araiza. Texts of police messaging Doe were screen-shotted for Gilleon, Doe’s lawyer.
“During the call, Araiza confirmed having sex with Doe, even telling her that she should get tested for STDs. When the detectives heard this, they instructed Doe to say, ‘Wait, what STD?’ Araiza told Doe that he had tested positive for chlamydia, at which time Doe was
instructed to say, ‘So you know what to get tested for OK, that makes me feel a bit better.'”
The suit continued: “To cement the criminal case against Araiza, the detectives asked Doe to ask again, ‘And did we have actual sex?’ … As expected … Araiza immediately changed his tone, saying, ‘This is Matt Araiza. I don’t remember anything that happened that night,’ at which time he terminated the pretext call by hanging up on Doe.”
Reporting by the Los Angeles Times found that SDSU decided not to alert the campus community about the alleged gang rape and waited more than seven months to launch its own investigation.
“Campus officials have said police asked them to not take any action that would compromise their investigation and that they were not required by federal law to send out a crime notification,” the paper said Thursday. “After The Times report, San Diego State officials began posting some information about the October incident on a campus website.”
SDSU launched a Title IX investigation last month, and in a statement said the school was advised by police that it could not conduct its own inquiry without potentially compromising the police department’s criminal investigation.
In its statement, SDSU noted that Title IX investigations lack the warrant or subpoena power available to law enforcement investigations, and that universities cannot compel participation by either the victim or accused. If a student violated policy, the maximum possible punishment available is expulsion.
The San Diego Police Department later announced that it has completed its investigation and submitted the results of their probe to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office for review and possible filing of criminal charges.
In April, former Rancho Bernardo High School star Araiza was picked by the Bills in Round 6 of the NFL draft, the 180th player chosen. He’s reportedly been chosen their starting punter.
Last November, Araiza won the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation’s top punter in college football. After punting 76 times for 3,904 yards, he ranks first in FBS history in punt average, 51.4 yards, 60-yard punts, with 18, and 50-yard punts, with 39.
He also was one of four players in the nation handling all three kicking duties — punts, PATs/field goals and kickoffs. Araiza had six punts of at least 70 yards. He logged the longest punt of the year at 86 yards.
In an interview with ESPN, Araiza attributed his success to “great teammates that make it really easy.”
Updated at 9:36 p.m. Aug. 25, 2022. City News Service contributed to this report.