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Bills' Matt Araiza and 2 other football players accused of gang-raping teen while at San Diego State, complaint says

The lawsuit accuses Araiza, along with Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, of assaulting a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween house party last year.
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Buffalo Bills punter Matt Araiza has been accused in a civil lawsuit of participating in the gang-rape of a teenager last year at an off-campus party along with two other football players at San Diego State University.

Araiza denied the accusation. "The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press," he said in a statement shared Friday evening on Twitter by the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

"I look forward to quickly setting the record straight," the player said.

Filed in San Diego County superior court Thursday, the lawsuit accuses Araiza, along with Zavier Leonard and Nowlin "Pa’a" Ewaliko, of sexually assaulting a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween house party held at a residence where Araiza had been living.

The lawsuit alleges that the 17-year-old, who is identified only as Jane Doe, had been drinking with friends when they went to the Halloween party on Oct. 17. It said she was "observably intoxicated" when she arrived at the event.

Image: Matt Araiza of the Buffalo Bills during practice on Aug. 5, 2022 in Orchard Park, N.Y.
Matt Araiza of the Buffalo Bills during practice in Orchard Park, N.Y., on Aug. 5, 2022.Joshua Bessex / Getty Images

Later, after becoming separated from her friends, the girl was approached by Araiza, then a student at San Diego State, who offered her a drink, the lawsuit said. "Doe did not see Araiza pour her drink, but she accepted the drink and began consuming it," the lawsuit said, alleging that: "Upon information and belief, this drink not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicating substances."

The complaint said the teen had told Araiza, who was 21 at the time, that she was a high school senior. She alleged that he then took her to a side yard, where he asked her to perform oral sex on him and then had sex with her, before taking her to a bedroom in the home.

The complaint states there were at least three other men in the room, including Leonard and Ewaliko. It alleges that the teen fell in and out of consciousness as she was being raped, but said: "She does remember some moments from the horrific gang rape."

Around an hour and a half later, the lawsuit alleges that the teen "stumbled out of the room bloody and crying," with her nose, belly button and ear piercings having also been pulled out. She was bleeding from the vagina, the lawsuit alleges.

The teen told her friends what happened and the next day, reported it to police and underwent a rape exam, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit said officers had the teen contact the players in recorded exchanges, including a recorded call to Araiza, during which it said the football player confirmed that he had sex with her. However, when she asked if him they had "actual sex" the complaint said Araiza changed his tone, saying: "This is Matt Araiza. I don't remember anything that happened that night."

Araiza has been lauded as a "Punt God" on the field for his punting abilities, while Leonard was previously listed on San Diego State's roster as a redshirt freshman offensive lineman, according to The Los Angeles Times. As of early Friday morning, Leonard's name did not appear to be on the roster. Ewaliko was not named on this year's roster, but appeared on the school's 2021 roster as a defensive lineman.

Kerry Armstrong, an attorney for Araiza said he had been "on the case about six weeks" and said he "looks forward to court."

"I had a private investigator get on the case right away. We’ve interviewed witnesses who were at the house that night including at least one of the victim’s friends who came to the house that night with her," the attorney said. "Based on everything I’ve read and seen and heard I 100% do not believe the Matt Araiza forcibly raped this girl or raped her while she was intoxicated which is a crime in California."

NBC News has contacted attorneys reportedly representing Leonard and Ewaliko. They did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Attorney Marc Xavier Carlos, who is representing Ewaliko, according to The Los Angeles Times, told the newspaper he could not comment on the lawsuit and that he was still investigating what transpired. He said his client is no longer at San Diego State. Attorney Jamahl Kersey, who reportedly represents Leonard, told the newspaper he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Calling the alleged incident a “horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often,” Dan Gilleon, an attorney for the woman who filed the lawsuit, also accused a number of organizations of failing to action on the case.

“What makes these crimes different is not only that they were committed by self-entitled athletes,” Gilleon said in a statement. “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.”

The San Diego State University said in a statement that the university "takes allegations of sexual assault seriously."

"As this involves an active university investigation, and given laws governing privacy (FERPA), the university is not able to provide specific details regarding its investigation," it said. " However, SDSU’s independent investigative process remains active and is ongoing following California State University systemwide policy."

"If a student is found to be in violation of the student code of conduct, as the result of a thorough investigation, disciplinary action includes but is not limited to suspension, dismissal or expulsion," the school said.

The SDSU said in an statement published online on Thursday that the San Diego Police Department had requested that the school not take any action on the case, including launching an investigation and conducting interviews, to "avoid compromising its own criminal investigation."

"As members of the media have now reported on the SDPD investigation, the university is providing information about its actions, its resources and its commitment to supporting a thorough and complete police investigation, which every victim deserves," the school said.

The university said that on July 22, police had confirmed that SDSU could "proceed with its own conduct-related process without compromising SDPD's criminal investigation."

The Buffalo Bills said in a statement: “We 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 team said.

The NFL said it was "aware of the matter but will decline further comment at this time." As the incident is alleged to have occurred before Araiza was drafted, it would not be subject to certain NFL personal conduct policies.

Araiza was not expected to play against the Panthers in the team's preseason finale Friday night, the NFL said. Backup quarterback Matt Barkley was fielded in his place.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement that the San Diego Police Department had submitted its investigation to its office and said it was currently under review.

"There is no timeline for how long it will take," it said.

The San Diego Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.