SAN DIEGO — A civil lawsuit filed this week reveals the names of three football players accused of gang-raping a then-17-year-old at an off-campus San Diego State University party last year.
Matt Araiza, a top punter just selected in the NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, current Aztec Zavier Leonard and a former player, Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, are named in the document first obtained by the Los Angeles Times and then reviewed by FOX 5.
The lawsuit lists the plaintiff in the case as Jane Doe, as the young woman accusing the players remains anonymous at this time. In an interview with FOX 5 earlier this month, the 18-year-old said she was given a drink at a 2021 Halloween party and then taken to a bedroom, where she was raped by a group of college football players as she went in and out of consciousness.
At the time, the girl was a senior at Grossmont High School.
Word of the alleged assault first surfaced in media reports in June after rumors circulated campus, but until this week, the players had not been named publicly.
The woman told FOX 5 that after the rape she went home, and the next day she and her friends went to the police department to file a report. She then went to Rady Children’s Hospital, the young woman said, where she completed a screening commonly known as a rape kit.
The university has faced scrutiny over its handling of the allegations, with school officials saying they did not immediately launch their own probe into the case at the request of San Diego Police Department. That changed early this month, when the school formally started its own investigation.
Araiza grew up in San Diego and attended Rancho Bernardo High School. He was considered a top prospect at his position, winning awards and at times going viral for punts and kicks at SDSU before the Bills selected him in the sixth round of the recent NFL draft.
Leonard is listed as a redshirt freshman on the Aztecs athletics website, and Ewaliko played as a freshman last year but is no longer on the roster.
Kerry Armstrong, a criminal attorney for Araiza who has been given permission to speak on the civil suit, spoke to FOX 5 by phone Thursday. He said he has been looking into the allegations against his client for about a month and a half, hiring a private investigator to interview people who were at the party and friends of the accuser.
“There is no way Matt Araiza raped this woman,” he said.
Ewaliko’s lawyer told the L.A. Times his client no longer attends SDSU. In response to a FOX 5 inquiry, attorney Marc Xavier Carlos added: “At present the district attorney is reviewing the matter and no charges have been filed. The filing of civil action has no bearing on criminal charges.”
Leonard’s attorney, Jamahl Kersey, said by phone that “the investigation is ongoing and no conclusion should be drawn about my client.”
Dan Gilleon, the attorney representing Doe in the case, sent FOX 5 the following statement accompanying the suit:
“This was a horrific crime, the kind of which happens all too often. What makes these crimes different is not only that they were committed by self-entitled athletes.
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“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.”
Reached by email for a statement Thursday, an SDSU spokesperson said the university cannot comment on the details of an active school investigation.
“The university takes allegations of sexual assault seriously,” Chief Communications Officer La Monica Everett-Haynes wrote, in part. “SDSU’s independent investigative process remains active and is ongoing.”
“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 statement concludes.
The Buffalo Bills also released a statement, reading:
“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.”
FOX 5’s Zara Barker contributed to this report.