SAN DIEGO (AP) — Matt Araiza, the “Punt God” who led San Diego State to a record-setting season before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills, and two of his former Aztecs teammates were accused in a civil lawsuit Thursday of gang raped a teenager at an off-campus party last fall.
The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, accuses Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko of gang-raping a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween party at a home where Araiza lived.
The plaintiff, now 18, is identified in the complaint as “Jane Doe” because she was a minor at the time.
No arrests have been made and San Diego police have not publicly identified any suspects.
Leonard is on the San Diego State roster as a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Arlington, Texas. Evaliko is not on this year’s roster, but was on the 2021 roster as a defensive lineman from Seattle.
The lawsuit says the teenager had been drinking with friends when they decided to go to the party on Oct. 17 and was “obviously intoxicated upon arrival.” She got separated from her friends and was approached by Araiza who offered her a drink, according to the lawsuit. He believes the drink “not only contained alcohol, but also other intoxicants,” the complaint said.
He told Araiza, who was 21 at the time, that she was a high school senior, according to the lawsuit. She claims he then led her to a side yard where he asked her to perform oral sex and then had sex with her before taking her to a bedroom in the house. There were at least three other men in the room, including Leonard and Evalico, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that Araiza threw the teen first onto the bed, as she passed out while being raped. It adds, “but she remembers some moments of the horrific gang rape.”
After an hour and a half, the teenager “came out of the room covered in blood and crying,” according to the complaint. Her nose, navel and ear piercings had been removed.
She immediately told her friends about the rape, and the next day she reported it to police and underwent a rape test, according to the lawsuit. Officers directed her to call Araiza, which she did 10 days later as detectives recorded it, according to the complaint.
During the call, Araiza confirmed he had sex with her, the lawsuit states, but when she asked him “And we had real sex?” he replied “This is Matt Araiza. I don’t remember anything that happened that night” and hung up.
“This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often,” attorney Dan Gilleon said in a statement to the AP. Gilleon said this case is particularly egregious because it wasn’t just about “these athletes,” but many organizations from the university to the Buffalo Bills “acted as lopsided officials in denying that my client deserves justice, even though the accused are prize-winning athletes”.
The Los Angeles Times first reported the lawsuit.
Attorney Kerry Armstrong, who is representing Araiza in the criminal investigation, called the allegations untrue based on the findings of an investigator he hired.
“I don’t 100 percent believe that he violently raped this girl or had sex with her while she was passed out or drunk or anything like that,” Armstrong told the AP. “It is unfortunate that he has filed a civil suit. I think it’s a cash grab.”
Armstrong said the Bills were aware of Araiza’s allegations and investigation before the lawsuit was filed because he had been providing the team with updates since the player was retained about six weeks ago.
“Matt Araiza is very upset about this, as you can imagine. He’s very disappointed,” Armstrong said. “But he will get his day in court eventually.”
Armstrong said he was told police have completed their criminal investigation, which will then be reviewed by the district attorney to determine whether charges will be filed.
Marc Xavier Carlos, who represents Ewaliko in an ongoing criminal investigation, and Jamahl Kersey, who represents Leonard, told the Times they could not comment.
The lawsuit comes days after the Bills cleared the way for Araiza to take over the punting duties, releasing veteran returner Matt Haack. Buffalo drafted Araiza in the sixth round because of his nagging left leg.
The 22-year-old Araiza, who attended San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High, was SDSU’s most recognizable player during a 12-2 school season that was ranked No. 25 in the final AP Top 25 poll. his impressive punts and set an NCAA record with a 51.19-yard average. He won the Ray Guy Award and was an AP first-team All-American.
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt effective October 2021,” the Bills said in a statement. “Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we have conducted a thorough review of this matter. As this is an ongoing political matter, we will have no further comment at this point.”
The Bills traveled to Carolina for their final showdown with the Panthers on Friday night. It’s unclear if Araiza will play against the Panthers, although the Bills don’t have another player on their roster. Haak has since signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
AP Sports writer John Wawrow in Buffalo contributed to this report.