Editor’s Note: In December 2022, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office announced the football players accused in the case would not face criminal charges. A civil complaint has been filed in San Diego Superior Court naming three San Diego State football players accused, including Matt Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko.
Lawyers for a teenage girl who has accused at least three former and current San Diego State football players — including one who is now an NFL player — of raping her at an off-campus party in 2021 shared photos Friday of the injuries she allegedly sustained during the incident.
Photos and videos show bruising on the then-17-year-old girl’s neck and legs, according to her attorney Dan Gilleon, who said they were taken last October in the days following the incident at a house less than a mile from campus.
All-American punter Matt Araiza — whose play earned him the nickname “Punt God” and a draft selection by the NFL’s Buffalo Bills — is accused in the lawsuit of having sex with the girl, whom he knew was a high school student.
According to the lawsuit, they had sex outside of the party before he brought her inside the house, where she was allegedly gang-raped. Current SDSU students Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko were also named as defendants in the lawsuit filed Thursday in San Diego County Superior Court, along with SLJ LLC, the company that owned the residence where the alleged assault happened.
Friday, Gilleon also released photos via Twitter showing what are allegedly the girl’s diary entries handwritten in the days following the alleged assault. They appear to detail her interview with SDPD and what she remembers from the night.
“I feel like I should be documenting how I feel just to get through it but I don’t even know how to feel. A part of me can’t help but feel guilty and wonder if I could have prevented it,” a portion of the entries reads.
The alleged victim’s father sent NBC 7 a statement Friday that his daughter and their family have been let down by the police and the university.
“After over 10 months now since the incident and report filings with the SDPD and SDSUPD and over 2 and a half months of media coverage, the SDPD hasn’t made any arrests, SDSU hasn’t made any updates on their Title IX investigation, and the DA has yet to file any criminal charges,” he said. “In an effort to protect other women from this happening again, to hold those that participated accountable, and to continue the healing process and try and gain some semblance of control where she has had none, my daughter felt it was time to file civil charges. That it is incumbent upon the victim to try and find justice is disheartening, especially since our family put our faith and trust in the system for so long while the participants have been free to continue on with their normal lives.”
Former SDSU All-American Matt Araiza is one of three former and current Aztec players accused of gang raping a teen last fall. NBC 7’s Dave Summers spoke to the alleged victim’s attorney about the complaint.
Kerry Armstrong, Araiza’s attorney, told the Los Angeles Times Thursday he hadn’t reviewed the complaint but called the rape accusation false. He said his investigator spoke to witnesses from the party who contradict the allegations against Araiza. NBC 7 reached out for further comment but did not hear back.
Friday evening, Araiza made his first public comment on the lawsuit, telling The Athletic and ESPN, “The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press. I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
After the Bills’ preseason finale Friday, head coach Doug McDermott told Bills.com, “It’s not a situation that I or we take lightly. It’s very serious. I understand the sensitivity of the situation and it’s clear we have work to do to continue to figure this thing out. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to the people involved.”
An attorney for Ewaliko said it’s all an effort by the 17-year-old’s attorney to drum up pressure on the DA to file criminal charges. And he questioned the girl’s credibility.
“We saw some bruises; we don’t know who’s responsible for that,” said attorney Marc Carlos. “However, when you have an alleged victim who’s saying that they were in and out of consciousness, you kind of question the credibility of recall at that point because you’re selectively recalling things you may or may not have actually experienced.”
Leonard’s attorney Jamahl Kersey have NBC 7 the following statement Friday.
“It’s premature to comment, the matter is still under investigation. No conclusion should be reached, despite how alarming the allegations might be.”
The lawsuit claims Araiza “could observe that [the teen] was heavily intoxicated” and handed her a drink that she did not see him pour. “Upon information and belief, this drink not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicating substances,” the complaint alleged.
The teen was allegedly led into a room that Leonard, Ewaliko and at least one other person were already in. She went in and out of consciousness as the men raped her, according to the complaint, but she remembered seeing what appeared to be the light of a cell phone in her peripheral vision as if someone was recording a video.
The complaint said the alleged rape lasted for about an hour and a half and ended when the party was shut down. The teen, who has since turned 18, reported the alleged incident to SDPD the next day, the complaint said.
The complaint also claims Araiza confirmed he had sex with the teen on a call between the two the next day, and told the teen he had tested positive for chlamydia and suggested she get tested.
“He was apologetic,” Gilleon said in an interview Thursday.
At the time of the alleged incident, Araiza was 21 years old and Leonard and Ewaliko were around 18, according to the complaint. Leonard is listed as a redshirt freshman and Ewaliko is no longer on the team, according to the university’s roster.
Araiza won the Ray Guy Award, given every year to college football’s best punter, in his last season at SDSU. He graduated from Rancho Bernardo High School in 2017.
NBC 7 has also reached out to the Buffalo Bills who said that “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 they were aware of the matter but declined to comment.
The San Diego Police Department closed its criminal investigation of the alleged incident in early August without detailing what, if anything, was discovered. Recent requests for comment have not been answered.
The father of the accuser is now demanding accountability and justice for his daughter. NBC 7’s Artie Ojeda has the story.
No arrests have been made, and a spokesperson for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office on Thursday said SDPD’s investigation is under review, adding, “there is no timeline for how long it will take.”
A few days before SDPD closed its investigation, and nine months after the alleged rape, SDSU President Adela de la Torre announced the university was launching its own. A statement from SDSU sent Thursday said the university’s investigation is ongoing.
“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). 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.”
A letter to students Friday said since their investigation is still active, “the university is not able to provide specific details.”
SDSU has been criticized for the time it’s taken to launch their own investigation into the alleged rape, but the university says they held off on an investigation following a request from San Diego police.
“SDPD requested on Oct. 19, 2021, and in subsequent letters that SDSU — including UPD and the Title IX office — not take any action that could compromise SDPD’s criminal investigation, including launching a university-led investigation,” a university spokesperson told NBC 7 in an email.
On July 22, SDPD gave SDSU the green light to begin its investigation, according to the school.
“From the moment we learned of the alleged assault, our only interest has been in justice and legal accountability for anyone who violated the law,” wrote de la Torre. “As I have stated before: No one is above the law, and anyone found to have violated the law and university policy should suffer the consequences.”
The teen’s father told NBC 7 the university’s investigation felt to him like “a public relations move.”
On Friday, he also criticized the DA’s office for their lack of criminal charges in a written statement to NBC 7, which said in part:
“In an effort to protect other women from this happening again, to hold those that participated accountable, and to continue the healing process and try and gain some semblance of control where she has had none, my daughter felt it was time to file civil charges. That it is incumbent upon the victim to try and find justice is disheartening, especially since our family put our faith and trust in the system for so long while the participants have been free to continue on with their normal lives.”
NBC 7 reached out to the District Attorney’s office for comment again Friday, but has not heard back.
SDSU has launched an investigation into the alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl by five football players. NBC 7’s Nicole Gomez explains why the school is now investigating the October 2021 case.