NFL rookie punter Matt Araiza has been released from the Buffalo Bills days after he and two other football players were accused in a lawsuit of gang-raping a then-17-year-old girl during an off-campus party at San Diego State University last year.
“This afternoon, we decided that releasing Matt Araiza was the best thing to do. Our culture in Buffalo is more important than winning football games,” team general manager Brandon Beane announced on Saturday.
Araiza and two other current or former San Diego State University football players are accused of gang-raping the 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 and his co-defendants, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, were on San Diego State’s football team at the time of the alleged incident last October.
Araiza’s attorney, Kerry Armstrong, denied the allegations to CNN on Tuesday.
“He never raped his accuser, and that includes by force or by means of intoxication (including alcohol and/or drugs).” Armstrong said. “The rest of the details will eventually come out in a court of law.”
Araiza, in a statement issued through his attorney, said the facts were not as they are portrayed in the lawsuit or the press. “I look forward to quickly setting the record straight,” he said.
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 claim. The filing further asserts 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.
Araiza’s attorney disputed the claim, saying, “He never used any force against her. She was not visibly intoxicated. He did not hand her a drink with anything in it.”
The complaint says Araiza led the girl 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.
“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.
The girl reported the alleged incident the next day to the San Diego Police Department and underwent a rape examination at a hospital, according to the lawsuit.
In an interview with CNN affiliate KPBS, Jane Doe said that while she was separated from friends at the party, a man came up to her and handed her a drink, and they started talking. Soon after, she told the affiliate, Araiza allegedly led her to a bedroom where she said the assault took place.
“It kinda scared me just because I do know how many girls go to these parties and make the decisions that I, unfortunately, made that night. It scares me for the other women and all of the other students altogether,” she told KPBS, which withheld her name.
Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko’s lawyer Marc Carlos told CNN in a phone interview 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 SDSU this semester, according to Carlos.
Zavier Leonard’s attorney Jahmal Kersey declined to comment but told CNN they are aware of the lawsuit.
The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said the investigation is under review, but did not indicate when a charging decision will be made.
San Diego State 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 a violation of the university’s student code of conduct could potentially result in “suspension, dismissal or expulsion.”
The Buffalo Bills were made aware of the allegations in late July, when they were contacted by a representative of the alleged victim, Beane said in a news conference Saturday.
“The last 48 has been very difficult for a lot of people. It’s been tough, and we sympathize with this whole situation, all the parties involved,” Beane said.
“Ultimately, this is a legal situation. We don’t know all the facts and that’s what makes it hard, but at this time we just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that,” Beane added. “So, we’re going to part ways there.”
CNN’s Michelle Watson contributed to this report.