Matt Araiza, 2 SDSU football players accused in rape lawsuit

A civil lawsuit filed Thursday in state court alleges three past and present San Diego State University football players — including a top player who is now in the NFL — of gang raping a 17-year-old girl at a show last year Party off campus.

Matt Araiza, 22, whose powerful and precise kicks in college earned him the nickname “Punt God,” was accused of having sex with the minor outside the home and then taking her into a room where she was repeatedly raped. The lawsuit, filed in San Diego County Superior Court, alleges that the then high school senior passed out and passed out, but recalls moments when the men took turns assaulting her.

The other men named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard is listed as a redshirt freshman on the university’s fall football roster. Ewaliko was a newcomer to the team last year but is not on the current list.

Araiza’s attorney, Kerry Armstrong, said he did not investigate the complaint but called the rape allegations false. He said his investigator spoke to party witnesses who disagree with the allegations against Araiza.

“It’s a shakedown because he’s with the Buffalo Bills now,” Armstrong said, adding, “I have no doubt” that Araiza did not rape the teen.

Attorney Marc Xavier Carlos, who is representing Ewaliko in an ongoing criminal investigation into the incident, said he could not comment on the lawsuit and was still investigating what happened. He said his client is no longer in the state of San Diego. Attorney Jamahl Kersey, representing Leonard, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. He indicated that a criminal investigation was ongoing and said no conclusions should be drawn about his client.

The lawsuit comes as San Diego state faces continued criticism after a Times investigation found the university chose not to tell the campus community about the alleged gang rape and waited more than seven months to launch its own investigation .

Campus officials said police have asked them not to take any action that would jeopardize their investigations and that federal law does not require them to send out a crime notification. Following the Times report, San Diego state officials began posting some information about the incident on a campus website in October.

No arrests have been made and the San Diego Police Department has not publicly identified any suspects. Detectives recently filed their investigations with the San Diego County Attorney’s Office to determine whether charges should be filed.

The university launched a Title IX investigation last month after the city’s police department told the school it would not jeopardize the criminal investigation. Title IX is the federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination in federally funded educational institutions. Araiza and Ewaliko would not have to complete the campus investigation as they are no longer at the school.

Araiza won the starting job for the Bills, who were among the early favorites to win Super Bowl LVII, earlier this week after the team fired veteran punter Matt Haack.

At San Diego State, he became the second player in program history to receive unanimous first-team All-American honors. As a junior, he set several NCAA records last season, including most punts for 50 yards and won the Ray Guy Award for the nation’s top collegiate punter. After being named the Mountain West Conference Special Team Player of the Year, he drafted the NFL draft.

Whether the lawsuit will affect Araiza’s pro status is unclear.

The allegation in the lawsuit follows the NFL’s recent announcement that Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson will be serving an 11-game suspension without pay after he was accused by more than two dozen women of sexual misconduct during massage sessions. Watson will also have to pay a $5 million fine, undergo a behavioral expert evaluation, and follow the proposed treatment program.

“We were recently made aware of a civil lawsuit filed against Matt in October 2021,” the Bills said in a statement to The Times on Thursday. “Due to the seriousness of the complaint, we have thoroughly investigated this matter. As this is an ongoing civil proceeding, we will not comment further at this point.”

Araiza’s name appeared in at least one report related to the rape allegation that student-athletes submitted to San Diego State officials through an anonymous campus reporting system within days of the party.

“I hope, for Matt’s sake, that’s not true,” one student said in an Oct. 26 report reviewed by the Times along with other internal records in the case. “But if it’s true, I hope he gets the consequences he deserves and [the] Girl gets justice.”

At the time, the San Diego State Aztec football team was enjoying one of their best seasons in years.

Records show that one athlete told campus officials that students who heard about the incident wondered why campus officials hadn’t investigated and whether coaches were “trying to sweep it under the rug because our soccer team is doing so well.”

“Ninety-nine percent of soccer players are aware of the rape of five people, leaving the rest of student athletes wondering why nothing is being done,” the student said.

Last week, San Diego State President Adela de la Torre officiated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the team’s new home, Snapdragon Stadium, an estimated $310 million venue that is the centerpiece of a multi-billion-dollar campus development project.

The Aztec squad opens the 2022 season at their new stadium on Sept. 3 against Arizona in a game scheduled to be televised nationally by CBS.

The woman at the center of the lawsuit made her public debut last month. The 18-year-old said she was traumatized and had to finish her senior year of high school online. The Times generally does not identify alleged sex crime victims, and its lawsuit identifies her as Jane Doe.

The off-campus party began on October 16, and the attack happened in the early hours of October 17, according to the lawsuit.

In her lawsuit, the woman said she was already drinking with friends when they arrived at the Rockford Drive party, and Araiza, who lived at the house, gave her a drink. She believes the drink contained “not only alcohol but also other intoxicating substances,” the complaint said.

Armstrong, Araiza’s attorney, said he did not believe the teenager was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

According to the lawsuit, the teenager Araiza said she was a high school student and although he could see she was heavily intoxicated, he asked her to perform oral sex and then had sex with her. Araiza then took her to a bedroom where Leonard, Ewaliko and at least one other man were, the complaint said, and threw her face first on the bed. The lawsuit said she was raped for an hour and a half before the party shut down.

During the attack, according to the complaint, she noticed a light appearing like someone was recording cell phone video.

The teenager “stumbled out of the room, bleeding and crying. Her nose, navel and ear piercings had been ripped out and she was also bleeding from her vagina.”

Once she escaped, she told her friends she had been raped, the lawsuit said. A day later, she went to the city police department, where she waited about five hours before an officer spoke to her. She was taken to a hospital and subjected to a full rape investigation.

At police request, she made pretense calls — recorded by investigators — to the men named in the lawsuit, who police “determined were present in the room when the rape occurred.” Araiza, according to the complaint, confirmed on a call in late October that they had sex and recommended that she get tested for a sexually transmitted disease. Later in the conversation, she asked him, “And did we really have sex?” Araiza reportedly changed his tone and replied, “This is Matt Araiza. I don’t remember anything that happened that night.”

San Diego police detectives guided the young woman on her pretext calls, a review of text messages in The Times shows. The woman’s attorney, Daniel Gilleon, said police had not produced any recordings of those calls or his client’s police report. The results of the rape investigation were also not disclosed, he said.

The teenager has publicly criticized the city police department’s handling of her case, which she believed had stalled after the New Year, and the inaction of San Diego State. Her father, who spoke to The Times on condition of anonymity, said he shared his daughter’s account with campus police three days after the party, but was never given any information for the investigation or the Title IX complaints process.

The university said it asked San Diego police to provide the victim with the information, but did not respond to repeated questions from the Times asking why campus police did not provide that information directly to the victim’s father .

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-25/nfl-matt-araiza-sdsu-football-players-accused-rape-lawsuit Matt Araiza, 2 SDSU football players accused in rape lawsuit

Alley Einstein

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