Ex-NFL Punter Matt Araiza Will Be Dropped From Rape Lawsuit
4:51 PM EST on December 14, 2023
Lawyers for punter Matt Araiza announced Tuesday that their client has reached a settlement with a young woman who said she had been gang-raped at a house party in 2021 by multiple San Diego State football players. Per the agreement, Araiza will be dropped as a defendant from her civil suit, Araiza will drop a countersuit he filed against her, and no money will exchange hands. This followed the announcement late last year from San Diego prosecutors that no charges would be filed in the case.
The settlement does not end the lawsuit in its entirety. Four other men remain as defendants. Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, those men have said the sex that night was consensual. But there is no denying that Araiza—once nicknamed Punt God for his big punts—was the most famous person named in the lawsuit, and the person who drew the most national attention.
The party happened in October of 2021. Afterward, as the Los Angeles Times first reported, "Claims were rapidly spreading among the school’s athletes that five players had raped an unconscious girl and left her bloodied and bruised at a house party off campus." At the time, Jane Doe was 17 years old. Written in June of 2022, the Times report focused on how, months later, San Diego State still had not conducted any disciplinary process or Title IX investigation into what happened. It did not name the football players. Doe and her father spoke to the Times in a second article about their frustrations with what was and was not happening since Doe first reached out to authorities.
A few months later, in August, Doe filed her lawsuit. It named three football players: Zavier Leonard, Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko, and Araiza. Araiza, who had been drafted by the Buffalo Bills, was cut soon afterward.
San Diego police continued investigating, eventually turning their findings over to prosecutors, who conducted interviews and ultimately decided not to file criminal charges. Their reasons why ended up being documented in a 200-plus page transcript of a meeting between members of the prosecutor's office and Doe. The transcript showed deputy district attorney Trisha Amador explaining to Doe that, from the evidence her office could gather, it appeared that Araiza left the party before Doe was taken to a bedroom, where her civil lawsuit said she was gang-raped. Based on what authorities had found, Doe was also told that the sex she had with Araiza earlier in the night appeared consensual. Amador added that she believed she could not file a statutory rape charge because, at first, Doe didn't tell the police she was 17, some witnesses said there hadn't been any discussion of her age, and another witness recalled Doe saying she was 18.
The transcript also went into detail about the questions it could not answer: How did Doe get so much blood on her? Where did the bruises come from? What happened to her phone? As part of the meeting, Doe was shown several videos taken from inside that bedroom. The videos were shot "point-of-view" style, as Amador described it, and showed multiple sex acts that included Doe. When speaking about the videos, Amador said, "I don't see any elements of force being used in the sexual encounter."
About two months after the transcript became public, Araiza filed his countersuit in San Diego Superior Court. On Sept. 18, Araiza's lawyers filed a motion with the court with several requests for what they wanted to happen during the completion of Doe's deposition. They wanted to use the videos, they wanted Araiza to be in the room in person, and they wanted Doe banned from holding a small stuffed toy. A day later, on Sept. 19, one of Doe's lawyers, James Mitchell, responded. He wrote:
I have personally viewed all the videos obtained by the police. They are ugly,
outrageous and pornographic. The proposed use of these videos by defendant Matthew Araiza’s lawyers to question plaintiff Jane Doe serves no purpose other than to harass and traumatize her. It is undisputed she is depicted in the brief videos, some of which have sound. Despite this, the lawyers claim they want to use the videos to “challenge” plaintiff’s allegations. These no doubt ugly and unlawful pornographic videos speak for themselves and require no commentary. Thus, the only purpose for showing the videos to plaintiff would be to harass and embarrass her. And, making her watch them could further traumatize her. All this, especially the pornographic nature of the videos of plaintiff taken when she was a minor, weigh heavily against using the videos to question her.
As to the stuffed animal, Mitchell wrote that Doe would keep it in her lap. He added that Araiza's attendance had already been resolved by the attorneys, including emails showing both sides agreeing that Araiza would attend via Zoom and with his camera off.
Judge Matthew Braner made his decision on Sept. 20. Per the court's minutes, Braner said that Araiza could "sit on one end of the room, opposite the Plaintiff" during her deposition, Doe could have the small, stuffed toy with her during the deposition for comfort but "with her hands down and not recorded," and questions about the tapes would be allowed. There's no further mention in the court records of completing Doe's deposition.
Speaking with KFMB San Diego, Doe's lawyer, Dan Gilleon, said, "I'm just representing a young woman has been through hell. And she's decided to end part of the hell by ending this litigation." At a Wednesday press conference, one of Araiza's lawyers, Dick Semerdjian, said "There was never any evidence whatsoever that Matt Araiza had taken that girl in the house, threw her on the bed as alleged in the complaint, and engaged in a gang rape."
At that press conference, these were among the questions asked of Araiza:
- "You've been forced to defend yourself for months against these claims, which have proven to be false. You haven't been declared not guilty. You've been declared innocent. There was nothing that happened. How do you rebuild from there? And how has this changed you?"
- "And you are planning definitely to pursue a lawsuit against Dan Gilleon?"
- "Can you talk about his remarks to you about you?"
- "Has anyone—now that you are innocent and Jill explained that beautifully—has anyone from her family or anybody associated with that ever reached out to you in any respect whatsoever, even if it's just one word?"
- "In your own words ... what's life been like for you? Because I can't imagine. People say, oh, this can never happen to me. And you lead your life a certain way and you think everything is fine and then one day this nightmare shows itself and lasts for month, after month, after month and destroys the beginning of a promising career. What has life been like for you?"
- "What would your advice be to future college football players or baseball or anybody else?"
- "Have the Bills even reached out to you verbally, sorry, etc., but given what was going on at the time? Have you heard from the Bills?"
- "Do you have a message to your fans? Obviously, San Diego State is a big deal here. Throughout all this, is there anything you want them to know?"
- "On a lighter side, did you see the punt the Chargers punter made the other day?"
Off camera, a voice can be heard asking, "Any other questions of Matt?" before the presser shifted to questions for the lawyers. Another voice off camera called out "congratulations."