The Matt Araiza Transcript Doesn’t Have All The Answers
4:45 PM EDT on May 15, 2023
Here's what is known about the night of Oct. 16, 2021. That night, Jane Doe, age 17 at the time, went to a house party with some friends. Multiple San Diego State football players were also there, including Zavier Leonard, Nowlin "Pa'a" Ewaliko, and future sixth-round NFL draft pick Matt Araiza. Some time afterward, several students called a school hotline to report rumors they had heard about a person getting raped at the party. San Diego State did not immediately launch an investigation, saying city police already were on it and those authorities had told them to wait so as not to interfere with the law enforcement investigation.
On Aug. 5, 2022, San Diego police turned over their case to prosecutors. Weeks later, Doe filed a civil lawsuit in San Diego court, saying she had been gang-raped by Araiza, Ewaliko, and Leonard at the party. Her lawsuit was detailed and graphic. It said she arrived at the party visibly drunk, told Araiza she was in high school before he had sex with her, and that it was Araiza who led her into a bedroom where several men took turns having sex with her. The Bills, who had drafted Araiza, cut the punter days later. Araiza's legal team has said, repeatedly, they will clear Araiza's name in court. Lawyers for Ewaliko and Leonard also have said their clients are innocent in the case because the sex was consensual.
Since then, authorities have said very little, except for the press release from San Diego prosecutors in late December saying they would not be pursuing criminal charges because "the evidence does not support the filing of criminal
charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction." (The press release did note that the investigation led to a charge of felony possession of child pornography filed against Ewaliko, to which he has pleaded not guilty.)
A smattering of new details did come out earlier this year, after multiple Southern California media outlets sued to make public copies of 10 search warrants that were related to the case. According to reporting in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the warrants showed police gathering evidence from phones—videos, text messages, photographs, call logs—as well as interviewing Doe and her friends. Doe told police that at first she thought someone named Danny took her to the bedroom, but later she believed it was someone named Matt. Inside the bedroom, Doe told police, she did not say no but she did say she felt defeated. She recalled two videos being recorded, as well as hearing the sound effect played when something is uploaded to Snapchat.
“Doe felt that the males were going to do what they wanted to do, and she was going to cooperate so that she was not seriously hurt,” the Union-Tribune reported one warrant as saying. “Doe was in and out of consciousness at this point and her memory was hazy.”
The affidavits also had police summarizing what Doe's friends told them. Several said they tried to find Doe, but they were outside and someone wouldn't let them back inside the house. One friend eventually was allowed inside, per the Union-Tribune, and found her in a hallway. Though her friends differed on when she became distraught—some said she was right away, another said she seemed happy at first and became distraught later—most of them included that she was bloody and bruised.
And then came the transcript of the Dec. 7 meeting between Doe and prosecutors, in which two members of the San Diego District Attorney's Office explained to Doe why the office would not be filing criminal charges. CBS8 in San Diego reported on it back in mid-April, with the headline: "Witness: Matt Araiza 'left the party' before sex acts began in bedroom." About five days later, the Union-Tribune followed up, also obtaining the audio and reporting: "Recording details prosecutors’ decision not to file criminal charges in SDSU rape case." Those stories didn't go viral. That didn't happen until Yahoo Sports got a copy of the transcript of the meeting and reported on some of its contents with the headline, "Prosecutors: Former Bills punter Matt Araiza wasn't present during alleged gang rape."
Defector Media has since gotten a copy of the transcript, as have other outlets including ESPN and USA Today. The document runs well over 200 pages and is incredibly detailed and emotional; given the candor of everyone discussing such a high-profile case, especially those with the San Diego prosecutor's office, I'm comfortable guessing nobody taking part in the conversation ever expected a record of it to become public. Part of the transcript includes deputy district attorney Trisha Amador explaining to Doe that, best they can tell from the evidence they have gathered, they believe Araiza had left the party before she was taken to the bedroom where her civil lawsuit said a gang-rape happened. They also said her having sex with Araiza earlier in the evening, based on what they had gathered, appeared consensual.
In an NFL-centric world, that's the headline. Araiza—once dubbed the Punt God for his ability to do, as you can guess, big punts—left the party before the possible gang rape of a then-17-year-old. But it's only one takeaway that's possible from the massive document. Because for all the questions it answers, there are many more it just leaves unaddressed, which is perhaps the most disappointing revelation of all. After all those hours, all that manpower and resources, nobody can still tell Doe, definitively, what did happen that night and then into the early hours, how she got bruised, or why there was blood on her. They can't even find her phone.
For as cold as the subject matter would be—an officer of the state explaining to a young woman why there won't be any criminal charges filed—the meeting opens up with a fair bit of talk about feelings. It's 9:46 a.m., inside a conference room, and deputy district attorney Trisha Amador tells Doe, who is joined by an attorney as well as a victim advocate, that "knowledge is power," followed by "if people have unanswered questions, it doesn't help them in their processing or their healing," along with "I want you to feel comfortable," and "this is about you and your feelings today."
Amador then outlined the steps taken by the DA's office to investigate the case. She mentioned the search warrants that were filed, pretext phone calls done with the men who were accused, meetings with police, the digital evidence gathered, and the fact that Amador's supervisors in the office also get to weigh in on a final decision all before telling the young woman that she cannot file criminal charges.
"I've been doing this a long time. You're very polite. You're very sweet. This is not what you wanted to hear from me today at all. I know that, OK?" Amador said. "It does not bring anybody any joy or anything to not be able to tell a victim that they can't go forward and win their case, especially because of everything that you've been going through to get to this process, OK? I'm going to be honest with you. I want you to be honest with me, OK?"
Amador then went through the evidence with everyone there and why her office didn't believe it was strong enough to press charges. In the pretext conversations—recorded phone calls between a person who said they are a crime victim and the potential suspect—all the men said they had sex with Doe but that it was consensual. Doe had bruising on her neck, but Amador said an expert could not confirm if they were bruises or hickeys. (This came up because Amador said that Doe and several witnesses had at first called them hickeys.) The bruising on her leg, mentioned in a search warrant, was not addressed. Her sexual assault forensic exam came back as a "a normal vaginal examination," which Amador quickly followed with the qualifier "that doesn't mean it didn't happen."
Then Amador told the room: "Skipping ahead, there is a video."
It's actually several videos, and why they matter and come up again and again in the documents is because Amador cited them as another reason why she could not file criminal charges in the case.
The discussion would not linger on the videos there, though there would be a lot more talk about them later as they related to the case. What followed was that Amador walked Doe, her lawyer, and her advocate through each charge she thought had been possible and why she couldn't bring it. Amador said she didn't believe she could bring a statutory rape charge because the first two times that Doe spoke with police, she didn't bring up that was 17. Some witnesses said there hadn't been any discussion of her age, and another witness from the party recalled her saying she was 18. (Doe said there was an exchange between two people saying 17-year-olds were coming to the party—she didn't say if it was over text or some other medium—but Amador said she had not been provided with that.)
Amador also mentioned that there was video of Doe from another party, not the night in question but a different one, that showed her saying she was 18. When Doe pushed Amador to explain this—why the events of a separate night should matter at all—Amador said: "I can't prevent that [video] from being played in court."
Two more charges also came up: One Amador called "forcible crimes," and the other she called "intox crimes," in which a person could not have resisted because they were intoxicated. Amador told Doe that, as far as the intox crimes, "They have to know that you're intoxicated to the point that you can't consent. ... They have to know that you're intoxicated." To what the young woman's friend's recalled about her intoxication level, Amador said, "So there are varying degrees about what your friends have said you consumed and didn't consume, as well."
"Even if people watched me like drink, like down a bottle and could vouch for that, it's like not enough if the people that raped me just thought that I was sober?" Doe asked.
"Well, there are varying degrees," Amador replied.
"And is that not what that is pretty much saying?" Doe said. "Like—"
"So they are varying degrees about what your friends have said you consumed and didn't consume, as well," Amador said.
"Yeah, but they also said that they were sober," Doe said, "and they were all drunk."
"So I'm left with the evidence that I have at the end of the day," Amador replied. "And I know you're frustrated. I'm going to go through with what I have. I don't base things based upon what one person says. I can't, I—I can't do that, because then I wouldn't be having this meeting with you. That's not fair or the right thing to do, OK? So where my starting point is what you remember, and then I have to fill in the gaps from there."
The conversation then moved to what Amador had called the forcible crimes, and this is where Araiza's name came up. Amador said that investigators were told by witnesses that Doe got to the party, left her group of friends, and shortly afterward came back. One person said they recalled Doe telling them she just had sex and she "seemed fine" and not scared or distraught. As investigators believed this is when the young woman was with Araiza—early in the evening, against the side of the house—Amador said, "You appeared to be having fun and that the encounter on the side of the house with Matt, suspect Araiza, was consensual."
Three witnesses told investigators that Doe left, then returned a second time after having sex with a second person. Amador said, "Again, you're described as being OK not scared or distraught. Seemed happy. Seemed consensual. There's no indication that you were at an intoxication level at this point."
This is when Doe got upset during the meeting, and she apologized to Amador, telling her "I'm having a lot of emotions. Don't take it personally." Amador is unfazed, alluding to the fact that she knew the investigation had taken a toll on some of Doe's friendships. As Doe told Amador, "It's that I'm finding out that they've told me different things than they've told law enforcement."
"And I have never seen the tape," Doe added, "so I just know what my friends told me, which I'm now finding out was all not true."
Amador later added that they had one witness, who was not a suspect and not a friend of Doe's, who told them he recalled Doe going up to people at the party and saying, "If you don't fuck me, you're a pussy." And one of the people she said this to, per Amador, who said she based this off of two separate witnesses, was Ewaliko.
Snippets of video, per the transcript, were taken of two separate blocks of time during the night. The first involved Doe and Ewaliko. A witness told investigators that they saw the young woman walk across the living room and take off her underwear, and they also told authorities that Doe did not seem too drunk to consent. This person then left the room and closed the door, but the encounter with Ewaliko was recorded. In the interview, district attorney investigator Ted Mansour repeatedly called it a "point-of-view" recording that was not done by anyone else in the room and/or Doe. When the woman and her lawyer asserted that it must have been Ewaliko, Mansour answered "I can just say it's a point-of-view recording," though Amador later concedes it was Ewaliko.
"Based upon what's on the video, there's no indications that I can legally charge or say that there's force involved," Amador said. "And because there's another—other witnesses at the time that say there's not an intoxication level at that point, there's not anything I can charge for two particular crimes."
When asked by Doe's attorney if it's an issue if Doe didn't know she was being recorded, Amador said, "I can't say she doesn't know she's being recorded."
As for Araiza, at this point, Amador said "he's alleged to have left the party at 12:30. And then this—so he wasn't even at the party anymore."
At this point, gaps began to appear in what the DA's office could outline for Doe because there were chunks of time where they simply could not piece together where she was or what happened. Amador said, "I have filled in a couple of gaps, but I haven't been able to fill in everything."
She said that Doe again returned to her friends and "there's a comment about sex." At this point, per Amador, there were "varying reports" of Doe's level of intoxication. And then, at some point Doe, ended up in a bedroom. Amador said, "How we got to the bedroom, I'm not a hundred percent sure."
What happened in the bedroom is much blurrier. Amador began by going over Doe's initial statements to police as well as a SART nurse. When Doe talked to the police, per Amador, they asked "if you had sex with anybody at the party that was not forced, your response was you never said no to anyone, but you never intended to have sex with them."
The SART exam form had "no" checked off for if force was used. Doe pushed back on that, saying, "I explained the choking to them, and I explained a lot of the force to them. So I'm concerned why that says I said no—no—that no force was used." Amador replied with the checked-box explanation and added that it was "just one piece of the puzzle."
Other pieces would come from the bedroom video clips. There were multiple clips of video that showed multiple sex acts involving Doe and different men. In the videos, Doe did not have blood on her, she was not passed out and, from what can be seen in them, her piercings were still intact. (Her civil lawsuit had said she had multiple piercings pulled out.) As Amador described them, "I don't see any elements of force being used in the sexual encounter." She later added: "I don't know how long you were in the room, but I can show you the clips of the video, but because of what's in the video, I can't prove a forceable sexual assault."
These clips were also described by Amador as "point-of-view." Mansour said it came from another man and, when Doe's lawyer asked if that was Leonard, Mansour said yes.
To if Doe knew she was being recorded, Amador said, yes, it appeared so. Doe said she did recall "seeing a flash." Three different men are seen in the video, and the investigators believed one is Ewaliko and another is Leonard. The third was not Araiza. When Doe's lawyer asked if what happened with that person was consensual, Amador said, "I can tell you that I do not have anything that allows—allows me to file charges."
Doe's advocate asked if it was possible that Doe had been raped off camera, or in the moments where the timeline was unclear. Amador replied, "I don't have any evidence to support that is the problem. I—I can only operate in the evidence that I have."
A witness told investigators that he heard "what he thinks may be some sort of sexual encounter" happening in the room, which belonged to his friend. He called his friend, who said he wasn't home. So this person knocked on the bedroom door, then opened it. He told the authorities that he saw a person who looked like Doe and a young man, who both appeared to be fixing their clothes, and he told them "get out of here." He said his interaction with them was brief but Doe "didn't appear intoxicated to me, but I didn't have enough time to interact."
After this, Amador said it appeared the party ended about 1:30 a.m. but, beyond that, she could not say much at all because, at that point, every one of Doe's friends had given her different timeframes for what followed. There are many questions left unanswered. Doe's phone, which she lost, was never found. There's no definitive explanation for the blood on her, or how her body piercings ripped out. Over the course of the conversation, which stretched on for more than an hour and a half, there's a lot of talk about what did not happen to Doe, but not much about what did.
Near the end of the meeting, Doe is shown the videos. There has been much handwringing about this throughout the meeting. Earlier in the conversation, the investigator, Mansour, told Doe: "If I could just say something, as an investigator, too, I've had to be in a situation where I've had to show videos of something of this nature, and it is very difficult to watch. And I'm not trying to convince you one way or another to not watch it."
"I know," she replied.
"But I just, I—I want you know, too. I'm—I'm—I'm a father. I'm a father of a daughter."
There was a gap in her life "that I don't remember," Doe replied and it had been affecting her "for over a year now." So, if there was video that would help, yes, she said, she would like to see it. Throughout the conversation, Mansour and Amador asked Doe again and again if she wanted to watch the videos, and said they didn't want to do anything that would traumatize her, and she said yes.
So Doe was shown videos, right up until the moment she said, "I don't want to play anymore" and then they stopped. Time was given for Doe to ask any questions she had.
"How will this information—how is this released to the public?" she said. "Because I already know that it's going to be really hard."
Amador replied that her office didn't do press conferences, but they would put out a press release later that day. She said they wouldn't use her name but, as Doe noted, "It doesn't matter. Like, people already know who I am."
"I just feel like I've wasted a year of energy that I could have been dedicating to something else for an outcome that I don't want whatsoever," she said. "I could have just not reported this and probably been happier."
To which Amador replied, "I'm sorry."
In the days since the Yahoo story, both Doe and Araiza have spoken. Araiza told USA Today that a member of his family had survived a sexual assault but now the pendulum had swung too far to the other end, and "it feels like it’s instantly believed, and I don’t think that’s right, either." Doe told the publication she did not care about money at all, "I just want people to know what happened and I just want all of the suspects involved to feel they are facing some sort of consequences. That’s all I care about."
The civil case is scheduled to go to trial in October, and Araiza said he has turned down an offer to from Doe's lawyers to settle the case. If he's found not liable, it's highly likely that Araiza will find his place with an NFL team. But it's the gaps that remain in the story of Doe's night that disturb me. How was she bruised? Where did the blood come from? Who else was in the room? How drunk was she? What happened to her phone? What else happened in the room? These questions are hauntingly familiar to anyone who has been at a certain type of party—How did I get here? Did something happen to me?—and so is the lack of answers.