SDSU defends handling of Araiza gang rape allegation inquiry

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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SAN DIEGO – San Diego State football coach Brady Hoke said Monday he didn’t know star punter Matt Arazia had been accused of participating in the gang rape of a 17-year-old girl at an off-campus party in October until a civil lawsuit was filed last week.

Hoke’s boss, athletic director John David Wicker, defended the school administration’s decision to obey the San Diego Police Department’s request to delay a campus-led inquiry into the alleged gang rape until authorities finish their criminal investigation. The incident happened on Oct. 17 at a Halloween party at a home where Araiza had been living.

Araiza, nicknamed the “Punt God” and honored as a consensus All-American for his booming kicks that helped SDSU to a school-best 12-2 season, was cut by the Buffalo Bills on Saturday, two days after the civil lawsuit containing graphic details was filed against him and former teammates Zaver Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko. Leonard and Ewaliko are no longer with the team, Wicker said.

The school’s decision to accede to the SDPD was criticized by rape survivor and public speaker Brenda Tracy, who was brought in by SDSU to speak to the football team and other male athletes nearly three weeks after the alleged assault. Tracy said in a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday night that she had been told by an SDSU staff member “that there was an incident that had happened.”

Tracy added that as she learns more details, “it is becoming more obvious that SDSU did not do the right thing. Institutions should not defer to police investigations. Title IX and criminal cases can run concurrently. … Even without the victim directly reporting to the school, her father did, and the school could have reached out to him. Anonymous tips, one of which included a name, should have been followed up on immediately.”

Wicker confirmed that Tracy had been brought to campus.

“It is absolutely not true that we swept this under the rug because it was football, because we were having a successful season,” Wicker said. “That is not who we are and that is not who I am. That calls into question my morals and my ethics and that’s not true.”

Wicker and Hoke tried to avoid questions about the alleged gang rape at a news conference Monday. They read short statements and offered to answer questions about Saturday’s game against Arizona that will open SDSU’s new Snapdragon Stadium. When reporters continued to ask about the case, Wicker and Hoke walked out.

However, Wicker returned several minutes later and began answering questions.

“I still firmly believe that allowing SDPD to handle the investigation of this was the right way to go,” Wicker said. “SDPD asked us not to investigate because they felt like it would impede or potentially impact negatively their investigation, so we chose to do that.”

Wicker said that included even an informal investigation such as a coach asking a player if he had heard anything.

“SDPD asked us not to investigate. If we start asking questions you can tip someone off, and we’re not going to investigate,” Wicker said.

No arrests have been made and police have not publicly identified any suspects. The results of the police investigation are in the hands of the district attorney, although there is no timeline for a decision on whether charges will be filed. SDSU said it was cleared by the SDPD on July 22 to begin a campus investigation.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is now 18. She is identified in the complaint as “Jane Doe” because she was underage at the time.

Attorney Kerry Armstrong, who represents Araiza in the criminal investigation, called the allegations untrue based on the findings of an investigator he hired.

The Los Angeles Times has reported that Araiza’s name surfaced in connection with the rape allegation within days of the party in at least one report made by student-athletes to San Diego State officials through an anonymous reporting system.

Asked if he knew about that anonymous report, Hoke said: “I was not aware.”

Asked at what point he first heard Araiza’s name mentioned, Wicker said: “We did not receive confirmation from anyone that was party to the event until the civil lawsuit dropped.”

Meanwhile, the Bills say they have moved on from Araiza.

“We’re already past it. It’s over with,” offensive lineman Dion Dawkins said after the Bills returned to practice Monday, two days after the team announced Araiza’s release. “He’s not here. It’s not our problem. Done.”

Dawkins acknowledged he was he was troubled by the allegations made against Araiza in the lawsuit.

“The thoughts always come, but you’ve just got to try to keep your mind right and not think about stuff that you can’t really control,” Dawkins said. “Because if you think about all the rest of the messed-up stuff that goes on in the world, you’ll literally malfunction.”

Before practice, coach Sean McDermott addressed the players about Araiza’s release, which was announced more than two hours after the team completed practice on Saturday. Team officials, including McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, were first made aware of the allegations when they were told in late July that Araiza was one of a number of San Diego State players targeted in a police investigation.

Araiza was set to become Buffalo’s punter when the team released Matt Haack last week, but the Bills then reversed course. Center Mitch Morse defended the team’s handling of the situation.

“I think they’ve handled it admirably because I don’t envy those situations,” he said. “In the end, I do think they made the right decision.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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Lee Coleman/Getty Images
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.