SAN DIEGO — Three current and former San Diego State University football players -- including Buffalo Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza -- are accused of raping a 17-year-old girl last year at an off-campus party, according to court documents.
The civil lawsuit, filed Thursday in San Diego Superior Court, alleges that Araiza, 22, along with SDSU teammates Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, committed what the victim’s attorney described as a “gang rape” in the early morning hours of Oct. 17, 2021, after a Halloween party at the house where Araiza lived.
“It was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens too often,” Dan Gilleon, the woman’s lawyer, said in a statement. “My client deserves justice, even if the defendants are prized athletes.”
Lawsuit: 3 SDSU football players, including star punter now in NFL, accused of gang raping 17-year-old girl https://t.co/iVzGNG1RoK [Breaking]— The San Diego Union-Tribune (@sdut) August 26, 2022
An attorney for Araiza denied the accusations against his client, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Kerry Armstrong said Thursday that a private investigator spoke with witnesses who refuted many of the allegations included in the lawsuit, including that the girl was intoxicated the night of the gathering.
“I 100% do not believe that Araiza raped this young lady,” Armstrong told the Union-Tribune. “Based on everything I’ve seen, I really don’t think he did.”
Attorney Marc Xavier Carlos, who is representing Ewaliko in an ongoing criminal investigation of the incident, told the Los Angeles Times that he could not comment on the lawsuit and that he was still investigating what transpired. Attorney Jamahl Kersey, representing Leonard, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.
Araiza, whose powerful and precision kicking in college earned him the moniker “Punt God,” was accused of having sex with the minor outside the home and then bringing her inside to a room where she was repeatedly raped, the Times reported. The lawsuit alleges that the high school senior drifted in and out of consciousness but recalls being assaulted, according to the newspaper.
The teen, who has since turned 18, reported the alleged incident to the San Diego Police Department the next day, KNSD-TV reported.
“We were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021,” the Bills said in a statement that was reported by WIVB-TV and The Buffalo News. “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.”
The NFL said in a statement that it was also aware of the incident but declined to comment, ESPN reported.
Leonard is listed on San Diego State’s fall football roster as a redshirt freshman. Ewaliko was on the team last year as a freshman but is not on the current roster, according to the Times.
Araiza was the Bills’ fifth-round draft pick in May. He won the Ray Guy Award as the most outstanding punter in the nation last season, according to the News.
Araiza is not subject to punishment from the NFL because the alleged assault happened before he was drafted, the newspaper reported. Alleged misconduct that occurs before a player enters the NFL is not included in the terms of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy.
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