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What we know about the DA's decision to not file charges in SDSU rape case

San Diego State University is shown in this undated photo.
Emilyn Mohebbi
San Diego State University is shown in this undated photo.

Editor's Note: The following story contains an explicit list of sexual assault charges, which some readers may find disturbing.

It’s been over a year since a teenage girl reported that she was taken to a back room of a house on Rockford Drive during a party 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.

On Wednesday, the San Diego County District Attorney's Office announced that prosecutors would not seek criminal charges, saying in a statement that “it is clear the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges and there is no path to a potential criminal conviction.”

Here's what we know:


What does it mean when the district attorney says 'the evidence does not support the filing of criminal charges?'

It means prosecutors determined that the evidence in the case could not prove criminal charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Criminal law is element-based, meaning that prosecutors must prove every aspect of the case, former San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Mark Deniz said. He likened it to a chef's being unable to complete a dish without all the ingredients.

“I think there's probably a lot of evidence to show that there had been some relations between the accused and the victim in this case,” Deniz said. “But proving the injury part, proving the part of the story where their testimonies diverged, is probably where the issues were.”

Though the nature of the evidence might appear to be proof enough that a sexual assault occurred, there are a lot of considerations that prosecutors are taking into account when they are deciding how to proceed with a case like this, Deniz said.


“I would imagine that the attorneys for the accused said this is going to go to trial,” Deniz said. “So, when they face that scenario, the prosecutor has to make that decision: 'Can I win at trial? Can I get 12 people — all 12, not 11, not 10, but all 12 people — to agree?' And I don't believe after (their) reviewing and reading and seeing all the information that they believe that they could do that.”

What potential charges did the District Attorney’s Office consider?

In its announcement the DA’s Office outlined various potential criminal charges against the SDSU students, including statutory rape, forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, rape by intoxication and oral copulation by intoxication.

What was the evidence in the case?

According to the District Attorney’s Office, prosecutors and sexual assault experts reviewed more than 35 taped witness interviews, the results of a Sexual Assault Response Team exam, DNA results, forensic evidence from cellphones and video evidence of the incident itself.

Ten search warrants were executed, resulting in four terabytes of data, and a team from the DA’s Office worked with the San Diego Police Department to conduct further investigation, interviewing additional witnesses.

Can the case be taken up by the California attorney general?

According to Deniz, yes. However, he said, it is highly unlikely.

“Knowing the District Attorney's Office — and I deal with them every day — they are very committed to their advocacy, and they dot their I's and they cross their T's probably better than most counties here in California,” Deniz said. “So it would be really doubtful, to be honest, that I would see someone above the District Attorney's Office making a call.”

Resources at SDSU for sexual assault victims

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

Counseling Access & Crisis Line: (888) 724-7240,

Student Health Services, Calpulli Center: (619) 594-5281,

SDSU Police Department: (619) 594-1991

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

What happens next?

The civil suit filed by the now-18-year-old survivor, known only as Jane Doe, is ongoing. Dan Gilleon, attorney for the young woman, said in a statement to KPBS that he was not surprised by the DA’s decision.

“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.”

San Diego State University is conducting its own administrative investigation into possible violations of the student code of conduct.

“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 sent to students, faculty and staff. "But you should know that the District Attorney’s decision has no bearing on our ongoing student conduct investigation at SDSU, which continues."

The burden of proof in a civil case, as well as in a 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.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.