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.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.