What's next in the Matt Araiza case?
Content warning: This story contains depictions of alleged sexual assault.
Matt Araiza was released as the starting punter for the Buffalo Bills in August. That came three days after he was named in a civil lawsuit that alleged that he participated in multiple rapes of an intoxicated 17-year-old girl at a 2021 off-campus house party while he attended San Diego State.
Araiza maintained his innocence, but the allegations were graphic.
“I knew I would be cut,” Araiza told Yahoo Sports.
In December, the San Diego District Attorney’s Office announced that it would not criminally charge Araiza or the others for the alleged assaults. The recent release of a recording of deputy district attorney Trisha Amador explaining to the girl and her attorney the decision and detailing exculpatory witness testimony and evidence, including videos, has buoyed Araiza’s hope of returning to the league.
Most notably, Amador concluded, based on the estimated timeline and the testimony of a witness, that Araiza was “gone from the party” when the alleged gang rape occurred.
His agent told USA Today that they have sent the recording to at least 20 NFL teams, hoping that listening to Amador directly in the one-hour, 40-minute meeting will convince them to consider giving Araiza, who set NCAA records at SDSU, a tryout.
“Even at the beginning, I kept saying that the evidence would prove I am innocent,” Araiza said. “I am hoping to get into a camp and compete for a job to help a team.”
It might not be that easy. While Araiza is criminally cleared and has what he believes is a powerful advocate in the explanation from Amador, the civil lawsuit filed by the girl continues.
The standard to win a civil case is a “preponderance of evidence” (essentially 50.1%) supporting one side or the other. It is far below the higher “beyond a reasonable doubt” required for a criminal conviction.
A trial is scheduled for the fall. The obvious solution is to settle the case before then. At least 95% of civil lawsuits are resolved before going to trial, according to numerous legal industry figures and estimates. The two sides have already discussed that path, with Araiza’s camp saying it recently turned down a $50,000 deal.
Yet a deal might not be an option.
“I’m not interested in settling,” Araiza, who signed a four-year, $3.9 million contract with the Bills prior to being terminated, told Yahoo Sports.
Araiza said he would not agree to any settlement in which he must admit any guilt. While he has acknowledged having sex with the girl earlier in the night, he maintains that it was consensual, she told him she was 18, and she did not appear intoxicated.
“It would be a lie,” Araiza said of any acknowledgement. “I know what happened, and I know as more and more evidence comes out, that will continue to be proven.”
Any admission of wrongdoing could also scare off NFL teams, which might not want to employ someone who has been involved in such a scandal. Often civil cases are settled just to put the issue in the past.
For Araiza, this is a catch-22. To get signed by an NFL team, he might need to settle the lawsuit, but if he settles the lawsuit, he might not be able to get signed by an NFL team.
He knows that with his being a punter — rather than, say, a star quarterback — there can be little doubt. “Specialists don’t get to be distractions,” he said.
While civil trials are rare, in this case, it might make sense for Araiza to go to court.
As for the girl, her attorney, Dan Gilleon, said they are eager to take the case to court.
“The reason we are going to win the case is that there is no dispute that Matt Araiza was 21, and he raped my client, who was 17 and obviously intoxicated,” Gilleon said, noting that age of consent in California is 18.
Gilleon further said that unless additional evidence is brought forward, the civil lawsuit will continue to allege that Araiza participated in the alleged gang rape. Gilleon believes the opinion of the district attorney’s office that Araiza wasn't present at the time of the alleged gang rape was based on limited information, namely one witness statement. He also noted that few sexual assault allegations are ever prosecuted, and the DA’s conclusion is not relevant to what would happen in a civil trial.
“I will prove Matt Araiza did not act as a person with reasonable prudence should have,” Gilleon said.
Araiza says the more evidence that comes out, the better. His legal team is currently seeking to have all material from law enforcement unsealed. The San Diego police and the prosecutor’s office each conducted lengthy but separate investigations. At least 35 witnesses were interviewed, and four terabytes of data were seized through search warrants.
Of particular note, Araiza said, would be if police acquired cell phone location information.
Amador stated her belief that Araiza left the party about an hour before the alleged gang rape occurred in a bedroom in the house. Araiza additionally told Yahoo Sports that he never entered the house that night, staying only in the backyard. He said he left with two other people, one of them a designated driver, and was taken to his home about a mile from the party house.
Araiza believes his best evidence came from multiple cell phone videos that the district attorney’s office reviewed because videos went beyond conflicting witness accounts. He thinks cell phone data could do the same.
“I’m hoping the phone location data proves that I wasn’t at the house [at the time of the alleged gang rape],” Araiza said. “I don’t live far away, but if there are two separate phone towers, then my fingers are crossed that it might show movement and prove I wasn’t at the party then.”
He thinks that would help convince people — NFL teams, fans and others — of his side of the story.
If that isn’t enough and the case goes to trial, then he says he will welcome the chance. A positive verdict in the civil trial could not only settle any lingering doubts and help his NFL chances but also open a path to counter-lawsuits.
“We already have enough evidence to prove this isn’t true,” Araiza said. “I want everyone to hear it.”