Three current or former San Diego State University football players, including the Buffalo Bills’ newly drafted punter Matthew Araiza, are accused of gang-raping a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween party last year, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by the attorney for the plaintiff identified in court documents as Jane Doe.
Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko were part of the San Diego State University football team at the time of the alleged incident last October.
Araiza said in a statement issued through his attorney that, “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
Earlier, his attorney, Kerry Armstrong, told CNN his client didn’t rape the accuser.
“He never used any force against her. She was not visibly intoxicated. He did not hand her a drink with anything in it,” Armstrong added.
Araiza “hopes it does not affect this career with the Buffalo Bills. He really likes the team and hopes he can stay with them,” said Armstrong.
Jane Doe says she attended a party in the San Diego area with friends, but was separated from them when she met Araiza, according to the lawsuit. The claim further asserts that Araiza “could observe that Doe was heavily intoxicated” and “handed her a drink anyway.”
“Doe informed Araiza that she attended Grossmont High School. Araiza, who was 21 years old, knew or should have known that Doe was a minor,” the complaint says.
The woman says Araiza led her to a bedroom where “there were at least three other men already in the bedroom,” including Leonard and Ewaliko, who were both at least 18 at the time, according to the court document. Shortly after Doe entered the bedroom, the men allegedly began engaging in sex acts with her, the lawsuit claims.
“Doe was raped for about an hour and a half until the party was shut down. Doe stumbled out of the room bloody and crying,” said the complaint.
Doe reported the alleged incident the next day to the San Diego Police Department and underwent a rape examination at a local hospital, according to the lawsuit. Days later, detectives arranged “pretext” calls between Doe and the men they had determined as her alleged attackers, said the claim.
“During the call, Araiza confirmed having sex with Doe, even telling her that she should get tested for STDs,” said the claim but when she pressed him about their encounter, “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,” the complaint alleges.
Ewaliko’s lawyer, Marc Carlos, told CNN in a phone interview that he sees some issues with Doe’s credibility and the circumstances under which she reported the event. “The filing of the civil suit is clearly an attempt to put pressure on the DA to file a case,” he said.
Ewaliko is not enrolled at San Diego State this semester, according to Carlos.
Leonard’s attorney, Jamahl Kersey, said: “We are aware of the lawsuit that was filed yesterday and we respectfully decline to comment.” He said he could not comment on his client’s status as a San Diego State student or player.
The police department has submitted its investigation to the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and is being reviewed, the DA’s office said, though officials did not indicate when a charging decision might be made.
CNN has also requested comment from police.
The university released a statement saying it “takes allegations of sexual assault seriously.” but was not able to release specific details on the case due to privacy concerns stating the allegations were still under “active university investigation.” The statement said further that a violation of the university’s student code of conduct could potentially result in “suspension, dismissal or expulsion.”
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” a Buffalo Bills spokesperson said. “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 didn’t play during Buffalo’s 21-0 loss in a pre-season game to the Carolina Panthers on Friday. “At the end of the day I didn’t feel like it was right,” said coach Sean McDermott.
Questioned after the game about the allegations, McDermott described it as an “extremely serious” situation. “We want to find the truth and figure this out the right way and do the right thing.”
NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said in a statement league officials are aware of the matter but had no additional comment.
An NFL player cannot be suspended for conduct before joining the league. But if a person is investigated for actions that occur while an NFL player, prior conduct can factor into potential discipline, according to the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Editor’s note (May 19, 2023): As of May 18, the civil lawsuit against the three players remains pending. In responses filed earlier this year to the lawsuit, Araiza, Ewaliko and Leonard denied the allegations. The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.
Araiza, Leonard and Ewaliko said in their individual answers that they are innocent of all the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint. Araiza and Leonard said they believe the plaintiff had “ulterior motives” in making the claims, including revenge, money and media publicity. Without admitting that the alleged acts occurred, the three also raised that the alleged acts were consensual, and all said they believed she was not a minor, with Araiza and Leonard saying she had told them her age.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s office said in December 2022 that it would not file criminal charges against Araiza for the alleged sexual assault after prosecutors determined the evidence does not support charges and there is no path to a potential conviction. “Prosecutors can only file charges when they ethically believe they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement at the time.
CNN’s Jill Martin and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.