Content warning: This story contains depictions of alleged sexual assault.
Last August, just days after earning the starting job as the Buffalo Bills' punter, rookie Matt Araiza was the subject of a civil lawsuit alleging that he and two San Diego State football teammates participated in a gang rape of an intoxicated 17-year-old girl.
While little was known publicly, San Diego Police had spent nearly 10 months on the case before forwarding it to the district attorney without a recommendation for prosecution. The Bills said they also knew about the incident, investigated it and decided to employ Araiza anyway.
The graphic allegations in the civil lawsuit, however, created a public frenzy. It included a claim that during an Oct. 15, 2021, party at a home near the SDSU campus, Araiza led the girl into a bedroom where “at least three other men” waited.
“Once inside, Araiza threw [the girl] onto the bed face first,” the lawsuit read. “[The girl] went in and in and out of consciousness while” suffering through “the horrific gang rape.” It lasted an hour and a half, the lawsuit read, before she “stumbled out of the room bloody and crying” in part because “multiple piercings had ripped through the skin during the attack.”
Within days, the Bills cut Araiza, who, due to his record-breaking NCAA career and an 82-yard punt in a preseason game, had earned the nickname “Punt God.”
“We just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation,” Buffalo general manager Brandon Beane said.
Araiza remains out of football despite prosecutors announcing on Dec. 7, 2022, that after conducting their own 124-day investigation, they wouldn’t press any criminal charges in the case. However, few details, let alone their reasoning or additional exculpatory evidence, were included in the initial statement.
A fuller picture of what police and prosecutors found, however, is now available via a 200-plus-page transcript obtained by Yahoo Sports of a 100-minute meeting in which a deputy district attorney offered a detailed explanation to the girl and her attorneys.
Perhaps most notably, the district attorney’s office concluded that Araiza couldn’t have led the girl into the alleged gang rape because he “left” the home at about 12:30 a.m., an hour prior to when evidence suggested the alleged gang rape would have occurred.
“He wasn’t even at the party anymore,” deputy district attorney Trisha Amador explained. Later, Amador stated of the timeline of events, “All I know is that at that point, suspect Araiza is gone from the party.”
Additionally, prosecutors told the girl that video recordings of the incident in the bedroom made it impossible to determine — let alone prosecute anyone — whether there was a gang rape at all that night, rather than consensual sex with the other men.
“In looking at the videos on the sex tape, I absolutely cannot prove any forceable sexual assault based upon what happened,” Amador said.
The accuser's attorney, Dan Gilleon, could not be reached for comment to Yahoo Sports. In a statement to Fox News Digital, Gilleon said his client won't be "bullied" into dropping the civil lawsuit. "It's not going to happen. This case is going to trial, and we’ll force Araiza to talk," he said.
Gilleon told CBS8 in San Diego that the witness on whom prosecutors based their opinion that Araiza was not present during the alleged gang rape was a “buddy.”
The dual investigations by police and prosecutors included more than 35 witness interviews (including some of the girl’s friends who came to the party with her that night), the results of a Sexual Assault Team exam conducted the following day and 10 search warrants that produced four terabytes of information, including numerous short videos of some of the alleged encounters.
They led authorities to come to vastly different conclusions than what was alleged in the civil lawsuit. Prosecutors explain it to the girl and her representatives in a sensitive and detailed manner during the meeting, allowing for questions and pushback from both the girl and her attorney.
Araiza, whose life has been upended since he was named in the civil lawsuit, hopes this is enough for NFL teams to take a second look at him, despite the civil suit still being active, according to his attorney. He and the two other players named in the suit vehemently deny any gang rape or knowledge that the girl was below California’s age of consent (18) or whether she was intoxicated.
Any sexual contact, Ariaza has said, was consensual. And now here, essentially, are local prosecutors making his case for him via a recording that not every jurisdiction provides.
For Araiza, the most powerful exculpatory evidence came from a number of short videos of the encounter between the girl and two or three men in the bedroom. Timestamps show it occurred about 1:30 a.m. Citing a witness and other information, prosecutors concluded Araiza had “left the party at 12:30 [a.m.],” Amador explained to the plaintiff.
The lawsuit additionally alleged that Araiza “knew or should have known” that the girl was only 17 years old and that she was “heavily intoxicated.”
The girl and some other high school friends became aware that a party was being thrown at the house just a few blocks from the SDSU campus. The group let themselves in through a back gate. Witness interviews from the party, including two of the girl’s friends with whom she arrived, said she didn’t appear to be drunk at the time. Other witnesses said the girl was telling people she was 18.
“A witness who was in the house gave a statement saying that at — at least one point in the party, that you made a statement telling people at the party you were 18,” Amador explained to the accuser. “Another witness at the party, a different one, says that they specifically heard you say you were 18 …”
There was additional evidence cited by Amador from a recording from a party the night before at a different residence in which the girl says on camera that she is 18.
The civil lawsuit alleged that soon after the girl’s arrival at the party, she was separated from her friends, and Araiza led her “over to the side yard of the house, where he told her to perform” sex against her consent.
Araiza, however, has always maintained that he never led her into a private area of the backyard, that she walked back there while he was urinating.
Witness testimony, again including the girl’s friends, played a role in prosecutors declining to press charges.
“The witnesses say … that shortly after you arrived at the party, you left and came back shortly thereafter,” Amador said. “And you told [a friend], ‘I just had sex.’ ... You didn’t appear unhappy. You appeared to be having fun and that the encounter on the side of the house with Matt, suspect Araiza, was consensual."
Amador explained to the girl that additional witness testimony alleged that at this period of time, “you were approaching men at the party saying, ‘I want you to [expletive] me, and if you don’t [expletive] me, you’re a [expletive].”
While the civil lawsuit claimed that right after the Araiza encounter in the side yard, the football player led her into the bedroom in the house, the timeline established by authorities was much different. Prosecutors said that “shortly after” being with Araiza, witnesses said the girl again left her group and came back to report that she had had sex with a different man. Again, prosecutors explained, witnesses suggested it was consensual.
“You had returned and then came back and said you had sex with a guy, this would have been the second person that would have been in the progression of the evening,” Amador said. “Again, you’re described as being OK, not scared or distraught. Seemed happy, seemed consensual.
“Again, you’re not intoxicated at this point that anybody would know your intoxication level to the point that they would not be able to tell that you weren't able to give consent,” Amador said.
The timeline prosecutors pieced together suggested that this encounter occurred at 12:55 a.m., about a half-hour after Araiza had left the house. This incident occurred on a living room sofa with one of the football players who was also named in the civil lawsuit. Parts of this encounter were filmed on a cell phone. Prosecutors said the footage from the cell phone did not suggest any forced behavior.
“There’s nothing in the videos that sound like you’re saying ‘stop’ or ‘this hurts’ or anything like that,” Ted Mansour, an investigator for the San Diego County district attorney’s office, said at the meeting.
The prosecutors offered to show the girl and her lawyers all of the videos they culled from cell phones. The girl watched one during the meeting before deciding that was enough. None of the lawyers in the civil case, or Araiza himself, has seen the videos because they involve sex with an underage girl. Araiza’s legal team is trying to acquire the videos through a court order as a way to defend him against the allegations.
Gilleon wrote in a court filing that Araiza not appearing in any of the brief videos does not prove he wasn’t there, just that he wasn’t filmed.
Prosecutors also said that videos from the bedroom show that the girl's piercings were not ripped at the time and she was not bleeding from any wounds. Amador said her behavior in the videos made prosecuting anyone for rape impossible.
“I don’t see any elements of force being used in the sexual encounter,” Amador said.
The civil lawsuit is continuing and requires a lower threshold of proof than criminal charges.