San Diego State defends handling of gang-rape allegation inquiry, says school followed guidance from local police

In their first public comments since a civil lawsuit was filed last week accusing former San Diego State punter Matt Araiza and two of his then-teammates of gang raping a 17-year-old girl last year, athletic director John David Wicker and football coach Brady Hoke reemphasized the university's position that its response followed guidance from local police.

Speaking during a Monday news conference, Wicker defended the school administration's decision to obey the San Diego Police Department's request to delay a campus-led inquiry into the alleged gang rape until authorities finished their criminal investigation. The alleged assault happened last October at a Halloween party at an off-campus residence.

Both Wicker and Hoke read prepared statements that condemned the allegations -- which surfaced in detail on Thursday as part of a lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court -- but initially refused to engage with follow-up questions from assembled media.

"This is an active investigation, it's ongoing. I will not be providing specific information about the case or the players," Hoke said. "I want to reinforce that we have and continue to support the criminal investigation done by the San Diego Police Department and we also support the district attorney's review of the case. What was reported to have happened should never happen -- ever.

"That shouldn't happen to anyone. And what has been important to us is that anyone who violates or violated the law or university policies, they be held accountable."

When questioning did not shift to the team's season opener against Arizona that will open SDSU's new Snapdragon Stadium, Wicker and Hoke left the room. Wicker returned alone after several minutes to field questions about the sexual assault case, and Hoke later returned to discuss Saturday's game.

The lawsuit accuses Araiza, who was 21 at the time, of having sex with a then-17-year-old high school senior, who was under the age of consent in California, outside an off-campus party held at his residence in the early morning of Oct. 17, 2021. The lawsuit states that Araiza then took her inside the home, where at least three other men, including the other two defendants named in the suit -- Araiza's former Aztecs teammates Zavier Leonard and Nowlin Ewaliko -- were located and that she was repeatedly raped for about an hour and a half. The lawsuit states that nose, belly button and ear piercings were pulled out during the acts and that she was bleeding from her vagina.

Leonard's name was removed from the SDSU roster after the lawsuit was filed, and Ewaliko was not on the roster when training camp began. Wicker confirmed both players are no longer with the team but was unwilling to answer specific questions about them or Araiza.

Araiza, a sixth-round NFL draft pick of the Buffalo Bills, was released by the team Saturday, two days after the lawsuit was filed. Attorney Kerry Armstrong, who represents Araiza in the criminal investigation, called the allegations untrue based on the findings of an investigator he hired.

In a lengthy statement provided to ESPN on Monday, Araiza's parents, Rico and Kerry, said their son has been prematurely convicted in the court of public opinion.

"He has been extorted, discriminated against, harassed and the subject of multiple and continuous threats of violence and death. He has been released from his job and our entire family continues to receive horrific threats of violence and death," the statement read in part. "We have all been canceled. Every member of our family.

"Salacious rumors grew as fact. There are multiple witness reports to deny the claims that are made against him. The legal system is designed to find the facts and make decisions. They should be allowed to do that."

According to San Diego State, the school became aware of a report of an off-campus sexual assault on Oct. 18, 2021, and the existence of a San Diego police investigation the following day. After the Title IX office began its assessment, it received a request from the police department to delay its investigation as not to potentially compromise the police investigation. The school said it complied.

"You always want to get to the bottom of allegations as quickly as you can, and this wasn't just an athletic department decision," Wicker said. "This was a decision that was made across the board, at the administrative levels of the institution to allow this process to go forward. I still firmly believe that allowing SDPD to handle the investigation of this was the right way to go."

Wicker said that included even an informal investigation, such as a coach asking a player if he had heard anything.

"SDPD asked us not to investigate. If we start asking questions you can tip someone off, and we're not going to investigate," Wicker said.

Nearly three weeks after the alleged assault, San Diego State brought in Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor and sexual-assault prevention educator and public speaker, to speak to the football team and other male athletes. The decision to bring Tracy to campus was, according to Wicker, prompted by "an incident that had been reported to us, that SDPD was investigating. We brought her in for enhanced education for our student-athletes."

At that point, Wicker said, names of the suspects had not been provided to them.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Araiza's name surfaced in connection with the rape allegation within days of the party in at least one report made by student-athletes to San Diego State officials through an anonymous reporting system.

Asked if he knew about that anonymous report, Hoke said: "I was not aware.''

Asked at what point he first heard Araiza's name mentioned, Wicker said: "We did not receive confirmation from anyone that was party to the event until the civil lawsuit dropped.''

Tracy, in a statement Sunday night, said she had been informed by an athletic staff member during her visit to campus "that there was an incident that had happened."

Wicker dismissed the suggestion that San Diego State coaches were trying to sweep the allegations under a rug due to the success of the football team.

"That is absolutely not true," Wicker said. "We will hold any student, any coach, any staff member to be held responsible for anything that's confirmed and adjudicated. It's absolutely not true that we swept this under the rug because it was football, because we were having a successful season. That is not who we are. That is not who I am. That calls into question my morals and my ethics and, no, that's not true."

Asked why he returned to Monday's news conference after initially walking out, Wicker said, "We just need to answer the questions." He added that it was his decision to come back out alone, without Hoke.

No arrests have been made in the case, and police have not publicly identified any suspects. The results of the police investigation are in the hands of the district attorney, although there is no timeline for a decision on whether charges will be filed. SDSU said it was cleared by the SDPD on July 22 to begin a campus investigation.

ESPN's Alaina Getzenberg and The Associated Press contributed to this report.