The Buffalo Bills decided Saturday that it was untenable to keep rookie punter Matt Araiza on the roster amid explosive accusations that he participated in a gang-rape of a then 17-year-old girl last fall in California.
The team announced it has released Araiza, a little more than 48 hours after the public release of a civil suit against him and two of his former San Diego State University teammates.
In discussing the team’s decision Saturday evening, a somber Bills General Manager Brandon Beane said, “Our culture here is more important than winning football games.”
“The last 48 hours have been very difficult for a lot of people,” Beane said. “It’s been tough. … We sympathize with this whole situation, all the parties involved, this young woman, what she went through. Really feel bad for that whole situation. Ultimately this is a legal situation, we don’t know all the facts and that’s what makes it hard.
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“But at this time,” Beane said, “we just think it’s the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that.”
Beane made it clear Araiza’s version of the events on the night in question were different than what is alleged in the lawsuit. Araiza released a statement Friday night through his agent saying the “facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit” and that he looked forward to “quickly setting the record straight.”
Beane said the team did not know about the allegations when it picked Araiza in the sixth round of the NFL draft in late April.
“We didn’t know about this, and the league didn’t know about this,” Beane said. “We’ve reached out to I can tell you double-digit teams at this point, and no one had anything on this. These names were sealed, wherever the investigation was at that point. Yes, if we had this, and we get things like this from guys, you know how important the character and the culture is to Sean (McDermott) and me. And anything that would have been lingering, (Araiza) would have been off our board.”
Less than 24 hours after Bills coach Sean McDermott took the podium following the team’s final preseason game Friday night and addressed the situation, Araiza was gone.
Beane said the team did not find out about the allegations until late July. The attorney for the accuser in the case, Daniel Gilleon, spoke with Kathryn D’Angelo, the Bills’ assistant general counsel, on July 31. Araiza’s attorney, Kerry Armstrong, said Friday that he believed Araiza had told the Bills about the situation briefly. after a June 3 story appeared in the Los Angeles Times about the incident. The story did not include the names of any San Diego State players. A second story with an interview with the accuser was published on July 29. Armstrong said he was retained by Araiza’s parents about six weeks ago.
“We were trying not to rush to judgment,” Beane said. “And obviously Matt’s version was different. And you want to give everyone as much due process as you can. Again, we’re not a judge and a jury. … “I would say it’s not easy, you’re trying to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information, and so ultimately that’s where we’re at today with a decision.”
The suit was filed in San Diego County Superior Court. No criminal charges have been filed. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Friday that it was reviewing a police investigation of the incident but offered no timetable for a decision.
According to the complaint, the teenager, identified as “Jane Doe” had already been drinking with friends when she arrived at the off-campus San Diego home and was “observably intoxicated.”
The teenager said Araiza, then 21, handed her a drink at the party that she believed “not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicating substances,” the suit said. She also said she told Araiza that she was in high school. He then led her to a side yard where he asked her to perform oral sex and then had sex with her, the suit said, before leading her inside.
In a bedroom of the house, the suit claims, Araiza and others participated in the rape. The others named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard and Nowlin Ewaliko. Leonard is on the San Diego State fall roster as a redshirt freshman. Ewaliko was on the team last year but is not on this fall’s roster. Lawyers for Leonard and Ewaliko have not commented.
The suit said she told her friends after the incident and went to the police the next day. Gilleon, her attorney, has released copies of journal entries she wrote after Oct. 17 the assault. The complaint said she waited for about five hours before an officer spoke to her. She was then taken to a hospital for a rape exam.
Asked if the release of the 11-page civil suit brought to light details he wasn’t aware of, Beane said:
“Well, they were accusations,” Beane said. “It just clarified exactly what they were. And at that point, it’s a real civil case. It’s not a, this may happen. It’s something that you have to respond to, and at this point we’re not the judge and jury.”
Asked why the team did not have follow-up conversations with Gilleon or try to talk to the woman after July 31, Beane said:
“I would say we had the boulders of what was going to be accused or alleged. But at that point, it wasn’t an actual case. And there was, one of the things you look at is, where is this criminally? That’s what you’re trying to find out. And so, we were just, again, trying to look at everything. (Any) one of those things there, if true, would be a no go for us. You know what I mean? So we didn’t need all that. We just needed to try and put as many facts together as we could in a limited amount of time.”
Added Beane: “All we were trying to do was use our resources in the time we had to put the pieces together and find out what happened, and Matt was very aware if anything was not on the up and up during our process that we would remove him. Once this became a civil case two days ago, it was very serious in nature, and we felt it was in Matt’s best interest.”
The attorney for “Jane Doe” thinks the Buffalo Bills made the right decision in releasing punter Matt Araiza on Saturday. However, Dan Gilleon thinks the team took far too long to come to the decision.
Gilleon was not impressed by the Bills’ response last month. In a statement released to The News, the attorney said:
“The Buffalo Bills had no choice but to cut their young punter after so badly botching their response to our claim: They ignored us, as though what I warned them would happen could be avoided if they just kept their heads in the sand. This is what enablers do.
“My client’s life was forever scarred in October 2021, but she handled herself with grace and dignity,” Gilleon said. “Not once did she express to me a desire to hurt her assaulters out of revenge or hatred. She never asked for a pound of flesh. Her only ask was the kind of justice that might save other young women from the hell she experienced.”
The Bills released a statement Thursday saying, in part, “Due to the serious nature of the complaint, we conducted a thorough examination of this matter.”
Beane acknowledged: “I mean, as thorough as we can be with what we were able to get our hands on.” We probably should have said ongoing. It wasn’t completed. We don’t have a lot of things right now, we really don’t. This is very serious.”
McDermott said he told Araiza of the team’s decision to release him Saturday morning: “He seemed to understand. I think when we spoke again this morning that he agreed that that was probably the best thing.”
The Bills released veteran punter Matt Haack on Monday, effectively declaring Araiza the winner of the punter competition.
“It wasn’t a civil case,” Beane said. “There was no criminal case. What we had was accusations that could come forward and we were still piecing it together. Obviously, 48 hours ago or sometime around then, a civil case was filed. We read through that and circled back again with Matt. Again, it’s a lot of things that right now we can’t close the loop on.”
Asked about the decision to cut Haack, who was subsequently picked up by the Indianapolis Colts, Beane said:
“That’s a tough one. You can second guess whether that was the right move. We’ll definitely look at that going forward if this situation or a similar situation happens.”
Beane said Araiza’s agent was unaware of the accusations until late July.
“His agent didn’t know,” Beane said. “Our understanding without getting into it is that Matt learned sometime this summer that he was being investigated, and that’s when he hired, I don’t know the date, but I believe he hired his attorney sometime around the time we found out.”
Araiza’s agent, Joe Linta, did not return a News call Saturday night.
Armstrong, Araiza’s attorney, released the following statement: “Matt is very upset and disappointed that his career with the Bills ended not because he played poorly, but because of false allegations leveled against him by a young lady and her attorney. I hope he is back in the NFL soon. He deserves to be, as he is the hardest-working 22-year-old I know.”
Asked again why the accusations were not enough to take action on Araiza in early August, Beane said: “We were trying not to rush to judgment. And obviously Matt’s version was different. And you want to give everyone as much due process as you can. Again, we’re not a judge and a jury.”
Araiza received a signing bonus of $216,148 upon signing a four-year contract with the Bills that would have been worth a total of $3.8 million. The contract is not guaranteed, and he does not receive his 2022 salary from the team due to the release.