SAN DIEGO, Calif. (KGTV) — The San Diego County District Attorney's Office says it is not bringing charges against football players who were accused of gang-raping a 17-year-old girl in Oct. 2021.
Punter Matt Araiza, winner of the 2021 Ray Guy Award, was among the accused. The Buffalo Bills promptly released the sixth-round pick in Aug. 2022 when the victim filed a lawsuit against him. Zavier Leonard and Nowlin Ewaliko were also listed in the suit; Leonard was listed on San Diego State University's football roster at the time. Ewaliko was not on the roster.
The teenager claimed the assault happened at an off-campus party on Oct. 17, 2021.
"Ultimately, prosecutors determined it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction," the district attorney's press release stated. "Prosecutors can only file charges when they ethically believe they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
When recounting the night during an interview, the victim said she and her high school friends were drinking when they arrived at the Halloween party.
She said she was "heavily intoxicated" when Araiza approached her and offered her a drink. The suit claimed that “despite her age and inebriated state, Araiza led [Jane] 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 the teenager was in and out of consciousness while she was being gang raped. She also said her phone was taken during the assault
The teen said the assault lasted an hour and a half until the party was shut down. She reported the rape to the San Diego Police Department the next 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 the teenager continued to ask questions, the lawsuit stated that Araiza terminated the call by hanging up on her.
SDPD handed the investigation to the DA's office for review on Aug. 5. Over the next 124 days, sexual assault experts "meticulously analyzed" all the evidence in the case, including 35 taped witness interviews, the results of a rape kit, DNA results and more evidence found through the use of 10 search warrants, the DA's press release says.
Video evidence of the incident was also reportedly reviewed by the DA's office, as well as more forensic evidence from cell phones.
The DA's office says it spoke to the teenager twice during the review and offered her support from the DA's Victim Services. Prosecutors also interviewed more witnesses as they reviewed the case in its entirety.
The press release pointed out the DA must consider the totality of evidence when considering bringing rape charges.
"It’s important to note that the criminal justice system and the civil court process are very different, with differing burdens of proof," the release states. "The DA’s Office must rely on facts and evidence and not on civil court filings or other reports in the media if not verified by admissible evidence."
The DA's Office emphasized that the case was carefully reviewed, especially taking into consideration the constitutional and statutory rights of all people involved in the case.
"The conclusions reached in this review are specific to this incident and should not discourage any victim from coming forward and reporting a crime to law enforcement," the release says.
Araiza's attorney claimed in August that the lawsuit was about money since the punter had recently become an NFL player. He also said “there’s no doubt in his mind” that Araiza was innocent and that he had spoken to people at the party who contradicted the teen's account.
An attorney for Ewaliko said at the time that the civil action in this case does not impact the DA's criminal review. Leonard's attorney offered no comment in August.
Dan Gilleon, the attorney representing teenager, tweeted that he is never surprised when a prosecutor does not file sexual assault charges in cases where the victim was intoxicated.
"It’s a very rare case where the criminal justice system achieves anything satisfactory for the victim of a sexual assault," Gilleon tweeted. "...It’s a different ball game here. The victim is represented, and the focus is on the harm defendants caused her. It is only in the civil system that a victim of sexual assault can get justice, and we plan to do just that."
Araiza's attorneys released a statement Wednesday afternoon, refuting the claims in the lawsuit.
We are legal counsel for Matt Araiza in the defense of the civil Complaint in the above referenced case filed by Plaintiff Jane Doe. The allegations made in her civil Complaint are deeply concerning. However, allegations are not facts and through the evidence reviewed in our investigation of the plaintiff’s civil claims, Matt Araiza is innocent, and we will obtain a defense verdict.
Our office has reviewed the San Diego District Attorney’s press release detailing its decision not to bring any criminal charges following the review of over 35 taped witness interviews, the results of a Sexual Assault Response Team exam, DNA results, and evidence derived from 10 search warrants, including video evidence of the incident itself.
“Ultimately, the prosecutors determined it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges.” Should the plaintiff continue in her civil case despite the District Attorney’s conclusion that there is “no path to a potential criminal conviction,” we will vigorously defend the civil Complaint against our client.
We know the plaintiff attended at least one other college party on the night of October 16, 2021, before arriving at the gathering attended by Mr. Araiza. By video evidence, we know the plaintiff presented herself as 18 years old at a college party the night prior. By multiple witness statements, we know the plaintiff continued this representation of herself at the gathering in question. The gathering was not hosted by Mr. Araiza. He did not and has never lived at the property. Mr. Araiza met the plaintiff when she approached him at the gathering. He did not provide her with any alcohol or drugs. Mr. Araiza did not see the plaintiff consume any alcohol or drugs. Shortly after the plaintiff introduced herself to Mr. Araiza, she made a sexual advance towards him in front of another witness. Mr. Araiza did not force, demand, or coerce the plaintiff to do anything. Mr. Araiza did not enter the home with the plaintiff, and he left the gathering long before her. Mr. Araiza does not have any personal knowledge of what may or may not have occurred inside the home on the night in question.
The plaintiff is represented by Daniel M. Gilleon. Mr. Gilleon has published multiple false claims about Mr. Araiza through his extensive media campaign. The consequences of these false claims have been severe. We look forward to defending Mr. Araiza in this civil lawsuit filed by the plaintiff and clearing his name as it relates to these allegations against him - once and for all.
Dick A. Semerdjian
Kristen M. Bush
Schwartz Semerdjian Cauley & Evans LLP
This story was originally reported by Pat Mueller on 10news.com.