Witness says Araiza not present for alleged rape
Alaina Getzenberg, ESPNMay 9, 2023, 02:19 PM ET
Prosecutors said Matt Araiza was not present when an alleged gang rape of a minor occurred at an October 2021 party, according to witness testimony included in evidence that prompted the San Diego District Attorney to not press criminal charges against the former Buffalo Bills punter.
Araiza, a former punter at San Diego State, also was not visible in any of the videos recovered from the night in question, according to audio from a meeting between San Diego deputy district attorney Trisha Amador and the woman who filed a civil lawsuit last year against Araiza and two of his former Aztecs teammates.
ESPN has obtained and reviewed over 1 hour and 41 minutes worth of audio from the Dec. 7, 2022, meeting attended by Amador, the woman, the woman’s attorney, district attorney investigator Ted Mansour and her selected victim advocate.
The purpose of the meeting was largely for Amador to explain why criminal charges could not be filed based on what could be proved and answer any questions that the woman and her representation may have. The San Diego Police Department concluded its investigation in August 2022.
Amador told the woman that Araiza left the off-campus party about an hour before the time of the alleged gang rape, according to a witness.
Amador said Araiza is “alleged to have left the party at 12:30” and was not “even at the party anymore” when some of the alleged gang rape occurred at 1:30 a.m. PT, according to the available video time stamps from the encounter that were found by the DA.
Amador also told the woman that nobody outside of her office, including the witness who testified to Araiza’s departure from the party, knows about the specific time stamps of the videos recovered from the party.
“There’s a witness who doesn’t have a reason to say what time suspect Araiza left the party because nobody knows about the time stamps — that he would’ve left the party prior to [a video being filmed],” Amador told the woman, according to the audio.
The Bills released Araiza on Aug. 27, two days after a lawsuit was filed accusing him of having sex with the then-17-year-old girl who was under the age of consent in California.
“I am aware that the facts of this case have been made public. I am deeply gratified for the thorough work of the DA’s office in San Diego and for all the witnesses that were willing to come forward and tell the truth,” Araiza said Tuesday night in a statement issued through his agent, Joe Linta. “I am thankful that the facts of this case as provided by the witnesses will prove that what I have been saying from the beginning is, in fact, the truth.”
The woman’s lawyer did not respond to ESPN’s request for comment.
The lawsuit states that Araiza, who was 21 at the time, led the girl to the side of the house and told her to perform oral sex on him before they had sexual intercourse. According to the lawsuit, Araiza then took her inside the home, where at least three other men, including the other two defendants named in the suit — former Aztecs teammates Zavier Leonard and Nowlin Ewaliko — were located, and that she was repeatedly raped for about 1½ hours.
The girl reported the alleged rape the following day to the San Diego Police Department, which investigated the allegations for nine months before turning over its investigation to prosecutors on Aug. 5, 2022.
According to a transcript of a pretext phone call between Araiza and the girl recorded on Oct. 27, 2021, Araiza said that after he and the girl “hooked up,” he remained outside “for the rest of the party.”
A pretext phone call is a recorded phone call between the person alleging the crime and the suspect, usually under the supervision of law enforcement.
The videos recorded from the party were described as taking place inside the house in two separate rooms, with about nine short clips of “point of view videos” taken from the perspective of those engaging in the acts, recovered from multiple devices. Some of them are in Snapchat format.
“I didn’t really see you again, but I remember somebody saying that like you were yelling at someone, or you were angry,” Araiza said to the girl, according to the transcript. “And like then the party was going to end or something like that. I think that was the reason the party ended.”
In April, a judge agreed to unseal the videos but not release them to the public. That order remains under review and could be delayed by the judge a couple of weeks, Araiza’s attorney, Kristen Bush, told ESPN on Tuesday.
The district attorney’s office also was unable to prove that there was awareness of the then-17-year-old’s age or her intoxication level. At least two witnesses at the party allegedly heard the girl say she was 18, while others said they didn’t recall her age coming up.
“The DA’s Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division has a team of Deputy District Attorneys, District Attorney Investigators, and Victim Advocates who are trained on how to be trauma-informed when interacting with victims,” Tanya Sierra, assistant director of communications for San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said in a statement. “It’s a priority for our office that we treat victims with dignity, respect, courtesy, and sensitivity.
“Even in instances where we cannot file charges because we cannot prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, we reach out to the victims so they can meet with us so we can explain why the case cannot be filed and answer their questions. We also offer them trauma-informed services through our Victim Services Unit and at One Safe Place: The North County Family Justice Center.”
Araiza has filed a claim against San Diego State University for damage to his reputation, according to a document reviewed by ESPN.
San Diego State said in a statement to ESPN that the university’s student conduct investigation into the matter “is ongoing,” and “a date of completion is not yet confirmed.”
The investigation proceeded in July 2022 after police told the university that doing so would not compromise the criminal investigation.
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