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San Diego district attorney declines to press rape charges against SDSU football players

The San Diego County District Attorney on Wednesday declined to charge any of the San Diego State University football players accused of a gang rape at a house party off campus last year.

A teenage girl reported she was taken to a backroom of a house on Rockford Drive on Oct. 16, 2021, and repeatedly assaulted by three men — later named in a civil suit as Matt Araiza, Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. All three were on the SDSU football team at the time.

Araiza was later drafted by the Buffalo Bills. When news broke that he was named in the suit, the Bills dropped him. Leonard and Ewaliko were not on the 2022 Aztec team.

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The D.A.’s office said it received the San Diego Police Department’s report on Aug. 5 for review, with no recommendation for criminal charges. Since then, the office said it conducted a thorough review, including interviewing 35 witnesses, looking at the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) exam, DNA results, and evidence from 10 search warrants.

The warrants yielded evidence from cell phones with videos of the incident, according to the D.A.’s office.

“Ultimately, prosecutors determined it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction,” the D.A.’s office said in a statement. “Prosecutors can only file charges when they ethically believe they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Resources at SDSU for sexual assault victims

SDSU Counseling & Psychological Services: (619) 594-5220 (non-emergency)

Counseling Access & Crisis Line: (888) 724-7240, www.sa.sdsu.edu/cps/

Student Health Services, Calpulli Center: (619) 594-5281, shs.sdsu.edu/index.asp

SDSU Police Department: (619) 594-1991

Center for Community Solutions: (888) 385-4657 (bilingual rape crisis hotline), ccssd.org

Thecivil suit filed by the now 18-year-old survivor, known only as Jane Doe, is still ongoing. Dan Gilleon, attorney for the young woman, said in a statement to KPBS that he was not surprised by Wednesday announcement.

“It’s a very rare case where the criminal justice system achieves anything satisfactory for the victim in a sexual assault,” he said. “In the criminal system, the victim is just another witness.”

Kerry Armstrong, attorney for Araiza, was not available for comment because he was in court. Marc Carlos, attorney for Ewailiko, said he was supportive of the D.A.'s decision.

"This was clearly a decision made after an exhaustive review of all available evidence by an experienced prosecution team acting according to ethical duties," he said in an email statement to KPBS.

Jamal Kersey, attorney for Leonard, has not responded to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, SDSU’s Title IX investigation is still ongoing.

"I understand that this will be a difficult time for members of our collective community," SDSU President Adela de la Torre said in a statement. "But you should know that the District Attorney’s decision has no bearing on our ongoing student conduct investigation at SDSU, which continues."

SDSU began a student-conduct investigation in July after SDPD told the university that it had completed its investigation. The university said it was asked by police not to conduct its own investigation while the criminal investigation was ongoing.

"And it remains true that, given the severity of the allegations, it was imperative to have allowed police investigators and prosecutors to review the case without interference," de la Torre said.

The burden of proof in a civil case, as well as the Title IX investigation, is much lower than in a criminal complaint. A preliminary hearing for the civil suit is expected to be heard on Jan. 6.

San Diego district attorney declines to press rape charges against SDSU football players


KPBS is a broadcast service of San Diego State University