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Bills release rookie punter Matt Araiza following gang rape allegation in civil lawsuit

Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane announced Saturday rookie punter Matt Araiza has been released, two days after Araiza, along with two other individuals, were accused in a civil lawsuit of gang raping a minor during an off-campus party at San Diego State University last year.

The lawsuit, which was filed Aug. 25 in San Diego County Superior Court, alleges that in October of 2021 Araiza had sex with a 17-year-old girl outside of an off-campus home, where Araiza lived, and then brought her into a room where she was repeatedly raped. The plaintiff is identified in the suit as "Jane Doe," because she was underage at the time, but is now 18, according to the Associated Press.

"I would say the last 48 hours has been very difficult for a lot of people," Beane told reporters on Saturday. "It's been tough and we sympathize with this whole situation, all of the parties involved. This young woman, what she went through. You really feel bad for that whole situation, and ultimately this is a legal situation and we don't know all of the facts. That's what makes it hard, but at this time 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. So, we're going to part ways there.

"I know it's a question of when did we hear this or what was the timeline -- late July from her representative spoke to [Bills assistant general counsel Kathryn D'Angelo] and laid out some of the things that they were accusing Matt and others of. At that time, our process, we tried to be thorough and thoughtful. Not rush to judgement, and I would say it's not easy. You're trying to put facts around a legal situation, sometimes with limited information. So ultimately that's where we're at today with the decision."

Beane added: "With the serious nature of an allegation, we don't have the means to put all of the facts together. There's multiple versions of what happened. He's a football coach (Sean McDermott) and I'm a GM, we don't have access to everything. That's more important than playing football, and so we want Matt to focus on that."

The two other football players named in the complaint are Zavier Leonard, currently on San Diego State's roster, and Nowlin "Pa'a" Ewaliko, who is not listed on this year's roster. Araiza became a star punter for the Aztecs as a redshirt junior in 2021, winning the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter. The Bills selected him in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Beane told reporters that the team was not aware of the allegation against Araiza during April's draft.

There have been no arrests made and San Diego Police have not publicly identified any suspects, according to the Associated Press.

"Our culture here is more important to us than winning football games," Beane said on Saturday.

Araiza, who became Buffalo's starting punter following the release of Matt Haack on Aug. 22, was held out of Friday’s preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Speaking to the media following the game, McDermott said Friday it was his decision not to play Araiza, calling the the situation "extremely serious" and one that the organization does not "take lightly whatsoever."

"It's just a matter of trying to find the truth at the end of the day, that's the goal is find the truth and do the right thing," McDermott said Friday. "And that's what I keep coming back to in my mind and my heart, is find out the truth to the best of my ability, and do the right thing."

Araiza released a statement earlier on Friday in which he challenged the details in the lawsuit.

"The facts of the incident are not what they are portrayed in the lawsuit or in the press," Araiza said in the statement. "I look forward to quickly setting the record straight."

Kerry Armstrong, Araiza's lawyer, has denied the rape accusation, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The NFL's personal-conduct policy does not apply to incidents that take place prior to a player being drafted or joining a team. If criminal charges are filed against Araiza, however, he would then be subject to a league investigation and potential disciplinary action, per the league policy.

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