Recently-drafted Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza was benched in the NFL team’s final preseason game Friday night — the day after a San Diego woman filed a lawsuit accusing him and two other current and former San Diego State University players of gang rape.
It is the latest development in a case that grabbed national attention this week when Araiza’s name became public in the young woman’s civil suit, which cites an incident she says occurred when he was still a standout player at the college.
Araiza, 22, was with the Bills for the team’s preseason finale at Carolina on Friday night, but did not suit up. Quarterback Matt Barkley handled the team’s punting duties.
The young woman was 17 and a senior in high school when she said she was raped by several men — all strangers to her — at an off-campus house party in October. She said she reported the rape to San Diego police the next day.
Police said they recently turned their investigation over to prosecutors for review. No one has been arrested, and no criminal charges have been filed.
Hours after filing the San Diego Superior Court civil suit, the woman’s attorney tweeted out photos from her journal, further detailing her accusations. One statement: “All I keep replaying in my mind is being face down in a random bed just waiting for it to be over.”
The lawsuit alleges that Araiza, then 21, had sex with the teen in a side yard of a College Area residence before bringing her into a bedroom where a group of men took turns raping her. Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko were part of the group, according to the lawsuit.
On Friday, Araiza’s agent, Joe Linta, texted the Union-Tribune this statement from the pro football player: “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.”
Kerry Armstrong, Araiza’s defense attorney said his client was “disappointed” in the Bills’ decision not to play him Friday, but also understands it and has “no animosity” against the team.
Armstrong also called the suit “a money grab,” noting it was filed just days after Araiza made the team.
Gilleon said Armstrong made that claim because “he is defending a professional athlete. He knows the public is programmed to think professional athletes are targeted for their money.”
Ewaliko’s lawyer raised questions Friday about the woman’s recollection of the events. The attorney representing Leonard could not be reached immediately for comment.
Leonard, a redshirt freshman from Arlington, Texas, is among those competing for playing time on the offensive line at San Diego State. However, he was not at Thursday’s practice and is not participating in team activities, a school official said.
Ewaliko, a redshirt freshman defensive lineman from Seattle was included on SDSU’s roster on July 18, but was no longer with the program when preseason camp opened Aug. 5. His lawyer confirmed he is no longer an SDSU student.
Earlier this month, the San Diego Police Department announced it completed its nine-month investigation and turned it over to the District Attorney’s office for review. Police officials said the investigation included 10 search warrants, interviews with multiple witnesses and reviews of more than three terabytes of digital information.
But Armstrong said Friday that as late as July — several months into the investigation — detectives still had not reached out to speak with Araiza.
The attorney said his client was unaware of the criminal investigation until news of it broke in June.
The Police Department declined to comment on Armstrong’s allegations because the case has been sent to prosecutors.
San Diego State University, which has been criticized for its response to the incident, said it held off on its own investigation at the request of the San Diego Police Department. In late July, the department gave college officials the green light to pursue its own inquiry, the college said.
University officials said this week that their administrative inquiry continues and that no additional details could be provided.
In April, the Bills drafted Araiza in the sixth-round — the first punter the team had drafted since 1990. On Thursday, the Bills issued a statement that they had been recently made aware of the allegations.
“Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter,” the team statement read, and declined further comment.
Gilleon said he informed the NFL team of the incident on July 31. And, he said, they never spoke to his client, “never even asked.”
Now 18, the woman told the Union-Tribune early this month that Halloween was approaching when she and her friends decided to go to the Oct. 16 party. According to the lawsuit, the teen got separated from her friends, and Araiza approached.
“Despite her age and inebriated state,” Araiza led her to a side area where he told the teen to perform a sex act on him. She did so, and then he had sex with her, according to the lawsuit.
The suit goes on to state that Araiza led the teen to a room in the residence; several men were inside, and she was thrown face down on a bed. The teen said that she was in and out of consciousness as men assaulted her and that her ear, belly and nose piercings were ripped out, according to the lawsuit.
The young woman’s anguish was captured in a journal she started after the alleged rape, her lawyer said.
“They were just taking turns with me as if I’m just some (expletive) body to be used under their free will” she wrote.
She said in the journal that she stumbled from the room, bloodied and bruised.
“I was bloody after. BLOODY,” she wrote. “What the hell did they do to me in there??? All my piercings are gone and my neck is disgusting.”
She said she wasn’t sure what caused the painful marks on her neck. Pictures shared by the young woman’s lawyer show bruises ringing the teen’s neck, and more all along her left leg.
Marc Carlos, Ewaliko’s lawyer, said Friday that some of the teen’s diary entries indicate she might not be “the most reliable historian.”
“She’s saying she has a problem remembering the details,” he said. “That’s problematic.”
In one of the diary entries, the teen writes, “I told the police today what they did to me and I felt like I was no help at all. I can barely even remember.”
The teen has long said she was in and out of consciousness during the alleged assault. The girl immediately disclosed the attack to her friends and reported it to police a day later — waiting outside the station about five hours for an officer to speak to her. She also underwent an intense sexual assault examination.
During the ensuing investigation, San Diego police detectives arranged a series of calls with the men they suspected were present when the rape occurred, including Araiza, Leonard and Ewaliko, the lawsuit said. They were so-called “pretext” calls, in which the woman called each of the men, and police listened to and recorded the conversations.
During one call, Araiza reportedly confirmed having sex with the teen and told her she should get tested for STDs, according to the lawsuit. But when the teen, at the direction of detectives, asked if they had “actual sex,” Araiza’s tone changed and he responded: “This is Matt Araiza. I don’t remember anything that happened that night,” and hung up.
Armstrong said his client had no idea that the call was likely a pretext call.
The young woman has said that after the first two months of the investigation, the next several months passed with no word from police.
That changed in June when the Los Angeles Times printed a story about allegations against unnamed football players.
The following month, she talked with the media about the incident. The names of the players did not become public until the civil suit was filed Thursday.