BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The attorney for a California teenager who has accused a Buffalo Bills rookie and two of his former college teammates of gang rape last fall said Friday the NFL team has not contacted him for details despite saying it had conducted a “thorough investigation.”
The Bills selected Matt Araiza out of San Diego State in the sixth round of the NFL draft in April, and named him their starting punter this week. A person familiar with the case told the AP the Bills were not aware of the allegations against Araiza in April. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team had not commented publicly about the allegations.
Executives from two different teams told the AP they became aware of Araiza’s involvement in an incident during the draft process, but neither person knew the extent of the allegations.
Dan Gilleon, who represents the California teenager, said he has not heard from team officials since first informing them of the allegations against Araiza in late July, when he says he had a phone conversation with team counsel Kathryn D’Angelo.
“She seemed like she was concerned. She says she’ll get back to me, and then she never did,” said Gilleon, who posted and then deleted a screenshot on social media of the email he says he sent to D’Angelo. “I even followed up and said, `Hey, you guys haven’t talked to me and called me back like you said you would.’ And they just ignored that, too.”
After the Bills declined multiple requests for comment on Friday, coach Sean McDermott was clearly shaken when he addressed the situation following a 21-0 preseason loss at Carolina.
“It’s a situation that’s extremely serious. Just hard to go through. It’s not a situation that I or we take lightly whatsoever,” he said. “I can tell you this my heart, my thoughts and prayers go out to the people involved. And that includes Matt. It includes both sides here. The victim and everyone involved.”
McDermott said he was surprised and shocked by some of the revelations that have come out over the past day, and repeatedly stressed the team has work to do. Asked what work needed to be done, he answered by saying: “It’s just a matter of trying to find the truth at the end of the day.”
McDermott said it was his decision to not have Araiza play, saying he felt it was not the right thing to do. While he said Araiza would travel back with the team, McDermott declined to answer a question on Araiza’s status on the roster.
Previously, the Bills’ only comment on the lawsuit came a day earlier in saying they were aware of the allegations and had conducted their own investigation.
“The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press,” Araiza said in a statement released through his agent, Joe Linta. “I look forward to quickly setting the record straight.”
Quarterback Matt Barkley handled the team’s punting duties against Carolina.
It was unclear if the Bills investigation was finished before they named him to their opening-day roster and the team statement provided no details, a familiar lack of transparency that raises fresh scrutiny on how NFL teams conduct internal reviews into allegations of misconduct.
It also comes as the NFL and the Cleveland Browns are reeling from a scandal involving quarterback
Deshaun Watson. Cleveland acquired Watson in a trade with Houston and signed him to a league-record $230 million contract while he faced civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct against two dozen women. Watson this season will serve an 11-game unpaid suspension, pay a $5 million fine and undergo professional evaluation. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also has been sharply criticized by members of Congress for not releasing details of an investigation into the Washington Commanders following allegations of workplace misconduct.
The Bills informed the NFL of the incident once they were made aware of it, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The person, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, wasn’t certain of the timeline.
The executives who had limited knowledge of the accusations against Araiza during the draft process said it didn’t impact his status on their draft board because they weren’t interested in selecting a punter. Executives from three other teams said they had no knowledge of the allegations against Araiza before the draft and only learned of the incident Thursday. All the people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Gilleon filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court this week accusing Araiza and two other San Diego State football players of raping a then-17-year-old girl at a Halloween party at an off-campus home where Araiza had been living. A San Diego police investigation has been turned over to the district attorney’s office to determine whether to pursue charges. DA spokeswoman Tanya Sierra said Friday there was no timeline as to how long a decision will take.
Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, said the player knew he could be the target of allegations since October. It was unclear if he informed the NFL of the allegations before the draft. Armstrong cited his own investigation’s findings in denying the allegations, saying: “I 100% do not believe that he ever forcibly raped this girl or had sex with her while she was passed out or drunk or anything like that.”
Armstrong said he has shared the findings of his investigation with the Bills over the past month, well before the team awarded Araiza, known as the “Punt God” for his booming kicks in college, the starting job on Monday. He also said he told Araiza six weeks ago, when he was retained, to tell Bills officials about the allegations.
“I told him, obviously, that any time you try to keep something secret like this, they’re going to find it anyway, so be very honest with them,” he said. “He has been. And I think that’s why he’s on the team right now.”
The NFL declined to comment except to say it was aware of the matter.
At San Diego State, one of the two remaining accused players remains on the roster but the other is not listed. The school said it did not investigate at the request of San Diego police in October.
“After careful consideration, SDSU determined that cooperating with the criminal investigation was the appropriate action to help ensure the highest likelihood of real consequences for anyone found responsible,” the university said. A Title IX investigation launched in July is ongoing.
The Bills appear to be following the same approach they took four years ago when running back LeSean McCoy was accused of having his former girlfriend beaten during a break-in at a home he owned outside Atlanta. Despite calls to cut ties with the player, the Bills stood behind McCoy, who was never charged in the matter and eventually reached an undisclosed settlement in a lawsuit filed against him.
Chances of a settlement of the case against Araiza were unclear as Gilleon and Armstrong swapped public accusations.
Armstrong said Araiza was against reaching a settlement, but the lawyer said he was asked by the player’s parents to contact Gilleon regarding the possibility. Armstrong said Gilleon never responded, though Gilleon has posted on his Twitter account several text exchanges he said he had with Armstrong in late July.
He told the AP he did so in response to Armstrong alleging his client was “committing a cash grab because he’s a Buffalo Bill.”
“My client refused to entertain the idea of a monetary settlement,” Gilleon wrote in a text to the AP. “It would have taken an apology, psychological counseling, donation to charity, etc., but once Kerry A. began his clown show, I realized it was useless to try to reason with him and withdrew the offer to speak with a civil defense attorney before filing the lawsuit.”
Gilleon said the decision to file the lawsuit three days after Araiza was awarded the punting job was the result of his growing frustration over the lack of feedback he was receiving from police on the progress of their investigation.
“They’re just blowing us off,” Gilleon said. “By filing a lawsuit, we have the power of subpoena and so I can force them to do what they’re supposed to do.”