Buffalo Bills cut punter Matt Araiza in wake of sex assault allegation in San Diego

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Bills on Saturday said they released rookie punter Matt Araiza, two days after a civil lawsuit accused him and two other former members of the San Diego State University football team of raping a 17-year-old girl last year at an off-campus party.

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All three are accused of rape, gender violence and false imprisonment.

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.

“This is bigger than football,” Bills general manager Brandon Beane said at a news conference Saturday night. “Let’s just step back and (let Araiza) go handle this. That’s what we thought was most important.”

The three men have not been charged with crimes related to the allegations, the Los Angeles Times reported. Police in San Diego have not publicly identified any subjects or released details about a criminal investigation they conducted into the rape allegation, the newspaper reported.

The case has been turned over to prosecutors, the Times reported.

Araiza did not attend practice Saturday after being held out of Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, ESPN reported. He has not spoken with reporters since the civil suit was filed.

In a statement released during Friday’s game, Araiza said, “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.”

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 newspaper. “Based on everything I’ve seen, I really don’t think he did.”

Beane said the Bills did not know about the allegations when it picked Araiza in the sixth round of the NFL draft in late April, The Buffalo News reported.

“We did not know about this, and the league did not know about this,” Beane told reporters. “We’ve reached out to I can tell you double-digit teams at this point, and no one had anything on this. These names were sealed, wherever the investigation was at that point. Yes, if we had this, and we get things like this from guys, you know how important the character and the culture is to Sean (McDermott) and me. And anything that would have been lingering, (Araiza) would have been off our board.

“We were trying not to rush to judgment,” Beane said. “And obviously Matt’s version was different. And you want to give everyone as much due process as you can. Again, we’re not a judge and a jury. ... I would say it’s not easy, you’re trying to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information, and so ultimately that’s where we’re at today with a decision.”