The Buffalo Bills decided Saturday that it was untenable to keep rookie punter Matt Araiza on the roster amid explosive allegations that he participated in the gang-rape of a then-17-year-old girl last fall in California.
The team announced it had released Araiza, just over 48 hours after the public release of a civil lawsuit against him and two of his former San Diego State University teammates.
Discussing the team’s decision Saturday night, sober 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 was difficult. … We sympathize with this whole situation, everyone 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 difficult.
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“But for now,” Beane said, “we just think it’s the best move for everybody to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation and focus on that.”
Beane made it clear that Araiza’s version of the events on the night in question was different from what is claimed in the lawsuit. Araiza released a statement Friday night through his agent saying the “facts of the incident are not as they are presented in the lawsuit” and that he looks forward to “quickly setting the record straight.”
Beane said the team was unaware of allegations when it selected 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 it,” Beane said. “We’ve contacted I can tell you double digit teams at this point, and nobody has had anything about it. Those names were sealed, wherever the investigation was at that point. Yeah, if we had this, and we get stuff like that from guys, you know how important the character and the culture is to Sean (McDermott) and me. And anything that would be prolonged, (Araiza) would be 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 learn of the allegations until late July. The attorney for the plaintiff in the case, Daniel Gilleon, spoke with Kathryn D’Angelo, the Bills’ general counsel, on July 31. Araiza’s attorney, Kerry Armstrong, said Friday that he believed Araiza told the Bills about the situation soon after. 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 plaintiff was published on July 29. Armstrong said he was retained by Araiza’s parents about six weeks ago.
“We tried not to rush to judgment,” Beane said. “And obviously Matt’s version was different. And you want to give everybody as much due process as you can. Again, we are not judge and jury. … “I would say it’s not easy, you try to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information, and so ultimately that’s where we are 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 confirmed Friday that it was reviewing a police investigation into 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 San Diego off-campus home and was “observably intoxicated.”
The teenager said Araiza, then 21, gave her a drink at the party that she believed “not only contained alcohol, but other intoxicants,” the suit said. She also said she told Araiza she was in high school. He then took her to a side yard where he asked her to perform oral sex and then made love to her, the suit said, before taking her inside.
In a bedroom of the house, the suit alleges, 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. Attorneys for Leonard and Ewaliko did not comment.
The suit said she told her friends after the incident and went to the police the next day. Gilleon, her lawyer, released copies of journals she wrote after the October 17 attack. The complaint said she waited about five hours before an officer spoke to her. She was then taken to hospital for a rape examination.
Asked if the release of the 11-page civil lawsuit revealed details he wasn’t aware of, Beane said:
“Well, they were accusations,” Beane said. “It just explained exactly what they were. And at that point, it’s a real civil case. It’s not, that can happen. It’s something you have to answer for, and at this point we’re not the judge and jury.”
Asked why the team did not have follow-up conversations with Gilleon or attempt to speak with the woman after July 31, Beane said:
“I would say we had the rocks on what was going to be charged or charged. But at that point, it was not a real case. And it 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 just, again, tried to look at everything. (Any) one of those things there, if true, would be nothing to us. Do you know what I mean? So we didn’t need all that. We just needed to try to piece together as many facts as possible in a limited amount of time.”
Added Beane: “All we were trying to do was use our resources at the time we had to put the pieces together and figure out what happened, and Matt was very aware if something didn’t improve during our process that we would. remove him. After 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 to release punter Matt Araiza on Saturday. However, Dan Gilleon believes the team took 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 pitcher after so badly botching their response to our claim: They ignored us, as if what I warned them was going to happen could have been avoided if they’d 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 attackers out of revenge or hatred. She never asked for a pound of flesh. Her only request was the kind of justice that could 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 have conducted a thorough examination of this matter.”
Beane acknowledged: “I mean, how can we be thorough about what we’ve been able to achieve. We probably should have said ongoing. It hasn’t been completed. We don’t have a lot of things right now, we really don’t. This is very serious .”
McDermott said he told Araiza about the team’s decision to release him Saturday morning: “He seemed to understand. I think when we talked again this morning he agreed it was probably the best thing.”
The Bills released veteran punter Matt Haack on Monday, effectively declaring Araiza the winner of the punter contest.
“It was not a civil case,” Beane said. “It was not a criminal case. What we had were allegations that could come up and we were still putting it together. Obviously, 48 hours ago or sometime around then, a civil case was filed. We read through that and circled again with Matt. Again, there are a lot of things that we can’t close the loop on right now.”
Asked about the decision to cut Haack, who was later picked up by the Indianapolis Colts, Beane said:
“That is difficult. You can second guess if that was the right move. We will certainly look at that going forward if this situation or a similar situation arises.”
Beane said Araiza’s agent was unaware of the allegations until late July.
“His agent didn’t know,” Beane said. “Our understanding without getting into it is that Matt found out sometime this summer that he was being investigated, and then he hired, I don’t know the date, but I think he hired his attorney sometime around the time we found out.”
Araiza’s agent, Joe Linta, did not return a call Saturday evening.
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 brought against him by Miss and her attorney. I hope he is. back in the NFL soon. He deserves to be, because he’s the hardest working 22-year-old I know.”
Asked again why the allegations weren’t enough to take action on Araiza in early August, Beane said: “We tried not to rush to judgment. And obviously Matt’s version was different. And you want to give everybody as much due process as you can. Again , we are not judge and jury.”
Araiza received a signing bonus of $216,148 upon signing a four-year contract with the Bills that would have totaled $3.8 million. The contract is not guaranteed, and he does not receive his 2022 salary from the team due to the release.