SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Three former or current San Diego State University football players—one who is now playing for the Buffalo Bills—are being sued for rape and false imprisonment.
The civil complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court on Thursday accuses Matt Araiza, Zavier Leonard, and Nowlin Ewaliko of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old during a Halloween party last year.
The lawsuit also accused the football players of gender violence and charges the company managing the property with premises liability.
Leonard is listed on the university’s football roster for this upcoming season. Ewaliko’s name is not on the current roster.
According to the lawsuit, the 17-year-old girl –referred to as Jane Doe--met Araiza at a Halloween party on Rockford Drive on October 17, 2021. The teenager and her friends drank at other parties prior to going to the residence.
Early in the evening, Doe became separated from her friends and was approached by Araiza, the lawsuit alleged. It stated that he could see she was “heavily intoxicated” and handed her a drink.
The suit claimed that “despite her age and inebriated state, Araiza led Doe over to the side yard of the house where he told her to perform oral sex on him.” The lawsuit also stated that Araiza had sex with the teenager outside of the home before leading her into a bedroom inside the house.
“There were at least three other men already in the bedroom,” the lawsuit stated. The lawsuit went on to say Doe was in and out of consciousness while she was being gang raped. She also said her phone was taken during the assault.
The assault occurred for roughly an hour and a half until the party was shut down. She “stumbled out of the room bloody and crying.” The lawsuit claims her nose, belly button, and ear piercings had been pulled out and she was also bleeding from her private area.
Doe immediately told her friends she had been raped and located her phone still at the residence using the “find my iPhone” app the next morning.
She said she reported the rape to San Diego Police the following day.
During what police called a “pretext call” with the men accused of rape, the lawsuit states that, “Araiza confirmed having sex with Doe, even telling her that she should get tested for [sexually transmitted diseases].”
As Doe continued to ask questions, the lawsuit stated that Araiza terminated the call by hanging up on her.
The documents alleged three football players subjected the teenager to “cruel and unjust hardship” and “acted with malice, oppression or fraud.”
San Diego State University is not listed as a defendant in this lawsuit.
Araiza was a sixth-round draft pick. He is the 2021 Ray Guy Award winner, which honors the country’s best collegiate punter. His first punt in the NFL went for 82 yards.
Team 10 spoke with Araiza’s attorney Kerry Armstrong. Armstrong believes the lawsuit is about money now that Araiza is a professional football player. He said “there’s no doubt in his mind” that Araiza is innocent and that he has spoken to people at the party that contradict Doe’s account.
A statement from the Buffalo Bills to Team 10 said: “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.”
Late Thursday afternoon, 10News received statements from the attorney's representing both Ewaliko and Leonard.
Read the statement from Ewaliko's attorney below:
At the present, the District Attorney is reviewing the matter and no charges have been filed. The civil action does not have any bearing on any criminal charges.
Read the statement from Leonard's attorney below:
We are not at liberty to comment on the lawsuit at this time. The investigation on this matter is ongoing and no conclusion should be jumped to regarding this young man.
The girl’s attorney Dan Gilleon said, “This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often.”
The allegations made by the teenager are currently under review by the District Attorney’s office. A spokesperson said there is no timeline for its completion.
San Diego State University sent 10News the following statement:
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. However, SDSU’s independent investigative process remains active and is ongoing following California State University systemwide policy: CSU Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, Sexual Exploitation, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Stalking, and Retaliation (Nondiscrimination Policy) [calstate.policystat.com]. 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 also sent a letter to students. Read the full letter below:
Dear SDSU Community,
The university received confirmation today that a civil lawsuit has been filed against three individuals connected to our football program. While the university is not named in this suit, it is important that we share an update about what we know and what actions we are taking.
First, this matter involves a pending criminal case currently under review by the Office of the District Attorney. While no suspects have been announced and no charges have been filed through that process to date, we will share an update with our campus community should that change. This matter also involves an active university investigation. Given this, as well as laws governing privacy, the university is not able to provide specific details.
Importantly, SDSU’s independent investigative process is proceeding under California State University systemwide policy [click.comms.sdsu.edu]. If any student is found to be in violation of our student code of conduct after our thorough investigation, disciplinary action can include suspension, dismissal or expulsion.
We reaffirm that the university takes allegations of sexual assault seriously, and many on this campus have dedicated years to education, training, policy creation and other actions to avoid anyone experiencing what is alleged to have occurred. Never would we allow anyone in this institution to be protected against being held accountable for their actions.
As shared before, if you know or become aware of someone being sexually assaulted, we urge you to report it. SDSU offers a range of reporting tools [click.comms.sdsu.edu] to share information about sexual assault and sexual violence, and we offer direct support and assistance to individuals who may have been harmed.
Lastly, we understand there are many questions we will not be able to share in a more public way given our investigative process. As we are able to do so, we will continue to update our public-facing site [click.comms.sdsu.edu].