Buffalo Bills Kick Rookie Punter from the Team After Getting Tackled by a Civil Lawsuit

Sep 23, 2022

By Dr. Robert J. Romano, St. John’s University, Seniro Writer

On August 25, 2022, Jane Doe filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court of California, County of San Diego, against the Buffalo Bills’ sixth round draft pick, Matthew Araiza, plus two other San Diego State football team members, and SLJ, LLC – a California limited liability company. Per the complaint, Jane Doe alleges that on Sunday, October 17, 2021, the Bills prospective punter, together with a number of other named and unnamed defendants, ‘gang-raped’ her at a Halloween party held at Azaria’s residence.[1] Jane Doe, who was 17 years old at the time, admits to arriving intoxicated to the party, but that Araiza, who was 21 years of age, after providing her with additional alcohol and ‘other intoxicating substances’, took advantage of both her young age and state of inebriation by separating her away from her friends and other party goers, leading her to the side yard of the house where he allegedly raped her orally and vaginally.[2] From there, Jane Doe claims that Araiza directed her to one of the bedrooms inside the house, where a group of men, including the two named San Diego State football players, ‘took turns having sex with her’ while she went in and out of consciousness.[3]

Prior to the lawsuit being filed, on both July 31 and August 1, 2022, the attorney for Jane Doe, Dan Gilleon, notified the Bills organization’s assistant general counsel, Kathryn D’Angelo, about the issues relating to the alleged rape and the impending civil lawsuit (and possible criminal charges) which both involved and implicated its draft pick. However, according to Gilleon’s law firm, the Buffalo franchise never followed up with his office, nor did it ask to speak to Jane Doe, despite its public statement that it had conducted a “thorough examination.”[4] This was acknowledged by Bills general manager, Brandon Beane, who admitted the franchise learned about the accusations in late July, stating “We tried to be thorough and thoughtful and not rush to judgment,” before adding, “It’s not easy.”[5]

At the same time the Bills were not ‘rushing to judgement’, it did however cut another punter on its roster, Matt Haack, which by doing so, pretty much handed the starting job to its Araiza who signed a four-year contract with the organization, valued at almost $4 million.[6] It wasn’t until August 27, 2022, two days after the civil lawsuit was filed by Jane Doe’s attorney that the Bills organization decided to act, releasing Araiza from the team and themselves of the obligation of paying out almost $1 million for the upcoming season. Even still, the team’s general manager sounded somewhat reluctant about the move, stating “We don’t know all the facts, and that’s what makes it hard, but at this time we think it is the best move for everyone to move on from Matt and let him take care of this situation.”[7]

One would think the Bills, together with the NFL, would have acted when they became aware of the significant and appalling allegations surrounding Araiza and his co-conspirators, especially considering the recent sexual misconduct and assault violations involving Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson.[8] However, the league and its 32 franchises have a history of reluctance when it comes to properly investigating domestic violence and sexual abuse claims perpetrated by its players. In other words, the NFL has what one would refer to as an ‘unofficial policy’ of staying in the background, waiting to see if criminal charges are filed or indictments are secured, before it takes any punitive action against one of its players. This, therefore, allows for the athlete to continue playing and collecting their million-dollar annual salaries in the interim. And why not, the franchises get the benefit of having their talented players perform each and every week until such time that the facts come to light after a criminal investigation has concluded. This, however, is assuming that such criminal charges are even filed because prosecutors are sometimes reluctant to pursue cases in which high profile athletes are concerned, especially when the victim is intoxicated since this would lead to what is commonly referred to as an ‘unreliable witness’.

But this ‘policy’ of waiting until the facts come to the forefront through a criminal investigation may be coming to an end because now victims have decided to pursue an alternative legal avenue. Jane Doe, whose frustrations over the alleged incident began on October 18, 2021, when she waited five hours at the San Diego Police Department before a police officer decided to speak with her about the assault, then subsequently watched as one of her assailants was offered a seven-figure contract by an NFL team to punt a ball around a stadium each Sunday, has decided to use the civil courts as a means to find justice. As outlined in the six-count civil complaint, her causes of action against Araiza and his co-conspirators include the following: a) Rape in violation of Civil Code Section 1708.5, b) Gender Violation as per Civil Code Section 52.4 and Penal Code Section 261(a)(2)(3), c) Violation of the Ralph Act, d) False Imprisonment, e) Violations of Code Section 1714, and f) Premises Liability.[9]

Jane Doe, like the twenty-four victims who filed civil actions against Deshaun Watson for sexual misconduct, have decided that issues surrounding sexual assault and professional football players need to be taken seriously by the NFL and the hierarchy at its various franchises, and if the criminal courts are going to be slow to justice, then the civil courts with their lower burden of proof standard will have to do. And no, we don’t want to ‘rush to judgement’, but the NFL cannot continue standing back and letting these perpetrators continue cashing their million-dollar paychecks while victim after victim waits for the criminal courts to ‘do their thing’. We know it is not ‘easy’, but it is the right and necessary thing to do.

[1] Plaintiff’s Complaint for Damages, page 2, paragraph 8. (Jane Doe also filed claims against Roes 1 through 20 who represent other individuals who are allegedly liable in this matter but whose true names and identities are unknown at this time.)

[2] Plaintiff’s Complaint for Damages, page 2, paragraphs 9 and 10.

[3] Plaintiff’s Complaint for Damages, page 2, paragraph 11.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/27/sports/football/buffalo-bills-matt-araiza-released.html

[5] Id.

[6] https://overthecap.com/player/matt-araiza/10225

[7] Id.

[8] Watson was eventually suspended for 11 games and fined $5 million. However, the Cleveland Browns structured the contract so that the suspension would have the least amount of financial impact on Watson’s total compensation package of over $230 million.

[9] Plaintiff’s Complaint for Damages filed on August 25, 2022.

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