Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza, two former San Diego State teammates accused of gang raping minor in lawsuit

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Bills rookie punter Matt Araiza and two others have been accused of gang raping a 17-year-old girl last year in a lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court on Thursday.

The lawsuit, obtained by ESPN, involves allegations against Araiza and two of his former San Diego State teammates. The other men named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard, a redshirt freshman with the Aztecs, and Nowlin Ewaliko, who was a freshman last season but is no longer on the listed roster. All three are accused of rape, gender violence and false imprisonment.

The lawsuit accuses Araiza, who was 21 at the time, of having sex with the then-high school senior, who was under the age of consent in California, outside at an off-campus party held at his residence during the early hours of Oct. 17, 2021. The suit states Araiza then brought her inside a room where at least three other men were, including Leonard and Ewaliko, and that she was repeatedly raped for about an hour and a half until the party was shut down.

Dan Gilleon, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, told ESPN that the Bills were made aware of the allegations as recently as the end of July, when he emailed the team's representation.

Araiza's criminal attorney, Kerry Armstrong, told ESPN that his client spoke with the girl at the party but that the rape allegations are "just untrue."

In a statement Thursday, the Bills said they "were recently made aware of a civil complaint involving Matt from October 2021. 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 aware of the incident but declined to comment. Because the alleged rape happened before Araiza was drafted, he would not be subject to the league's personal conduct policy.

The suit's filing was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

It states that the minor, named as Jane Doe because she was underage at the time, went in and out of consciousness but remembers moments as the men took turns assaulting her. The suit states that nose, belly button and ear piercings had been pulled out during the acts, and she was bleeding from her vagina.

Doe alleges that Araiza was aware of her being in high school. She alleges that he handed her a drink but she did not see him pour it. There is belief and information from Doe that it might have contained "intoxicating substances" besides alcohol. Armstrong denied that Araiza gave the girl a drink or put anything into it.

Armstrong had also told CBS 8 San Diego, "You better believe he did," when asked whether Araiza had disclosed the allegation to teams before he was drafted. But Armstrong has since told ESPN that he misunderstood the question and that he does not think Araiza brought it up before the draft.

"I don't know. I don't think it was before the draft," Armstrong said. "I'm almost certain it was after. Apparently I said that, so that was a mistake. But he was forthcoming with the Bills, but I don't think it was until after he was drafted because he didn't know that this was ever going to go anywhere until the L.A. Times article came out, I think around, whatever it was, five or six weeks ago."

That Times article, published June 3, reported that rape allegations against five Aztecs football players had not been investigated by San Diego State. The university said this was based on the San Diego Police Department's request that the school not take any action in order to not interfere with the police investigation.

Armstrong said it was his understanding that Araiza did not bring up the allegation to the Bills until the article was published.

"I don't know how quickly after that," Armstrong said. "But it was after that."

A day after the party, Doe reported the alleged rape to San Diego police, who opened an investigation. No arrests have been made and the suspects had not been publicly identified, but detectives recently submitted their findings to the district attorney's office to determine whether charges should be filed.

According to the suit, in a call to Araiza from Doe arranged by detectives from the Sex Crimes Unit of the San Diego Police Department, Araiza acknowledged having sex with Doe and said she should be tested for STDs. When she asked a more direct question about whether they had sex, per the detectives' request, Araiza changed his tone and said he didn't remember anything that happened that night.

"This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often," Gilleon said in a statement. "What makes these crimes different is not only that they were committed by self-entitled athletes. Just as awful as the crimes, for months, multiple organizations -- SDSU, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego District Attorney, and now the Buffalo Bills -- have acted the part of enablers looking the other way in denial that my client deserves justice even if the defendants are prized athletes."

Araiza was selected by the Bills in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL draft. He was named the team's starter Monday over Matt Haack, the Bills' punter last year. Haack was signed by the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday.