Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza, two San Diego State football players accused of gang raping minor in lawsuit

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza has been accused along with two others of gang raping a 17-year-old girl last year in a civil lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit, obtained by ESPN, involves allegations against three current and former San Diego State Aztecs football players, including Araiza, who starred for the team last season. The other men named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard, a redshirt freshman at San Diego State, and Nowlin Ewaliko, who was a freshman last season but is no longer on the listed roster.

The lawsuit accuses Araiza, 22, of having sex with the then-high school senior outside at an off-campus party held at his residence during the early hours of Oct. 17, 2021. The suit states Araiza then brought her inside a room where at least three other men were, including Leonard and Ewaliko. She was repeatedly raped for about an hour and a half until the party was shut down.

The suit’s filing was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The lawsuit states that the minor, named as Jane Doe, went in and out of consciousness but remembers moments as the men took turns assaulting her. The suit states that her nose, belly button and ear piercings had been pulled out during the acts, and she was bleeding from her vagina.

Doe claims that Araiza was aware of her being in high school. She alleges that he handed her a drink, but she did not see him pour it. There is belief and information from Doe that it might have contained other “intoxicating substances” besides alcohol.

Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, called the accusation false and told the Los Angeles Times his investigator spoke to witnesses from the party who contradict what is stated in the lawsuit.

“It’s a shakedown because he’s now with the Buffalo Bills,” said Armstrong, who added that there is “no doubt in my mind” that Araiza didn’t rape the teen.

A day after the party, Doe reported the rape to San Diego police, who opened an investigation. No arrests have been made and the suspects had not been publicly identified, but detectives recently submitted their findings to the district attorney’s office to determine whether charges should be filed, according to the Times.

Per the suit, in a call to Araiza from Doe arranged by detectives from the Sex Crimes Unit of the San Diego Police Department, Araiza admitted to having sex with Doe, confirming that she should be tested for STDs. When she asked a more direct question about whether or not they had sex, per the detectives request, Araiza changed his tone and said that he didn’t remember anything that happened that night.”

“This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often,” Dan Gilleon, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, said in a statement. “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 was drafted by the Bills in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL draft. He was officially named the team’s starter on Monday over Matt Haack, the Bills’ punter last year. Haack was officially signed by the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday.

“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” the Bills said 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 legal, we will have no other comment at this point.”

The NFL said in a statement that they were also aware of the incident but declined to comment. Because the alleged rape happened before Araiza was drafted, he would not be subject to the league’s personal conduct policy.