Lawsuit accuses police of refusing to release documents in San Diego State gang-rape case
The lawyer for the young woman who said three former San Diego State football players raped her at a party last year when she was 17 filed a lawsuit this week accusing the city of failing to release documents that he says should have been given to his client under state law.
According to the suit filed in San Diego County Superior Court on Wednesday, attorney Dan Gilleon requested dozens of documents connected to his client’s civil case — first on Aug. 19 and again on Sept. 6. Gilleon asked for all test results and photos taken during the rape exam the young woman underwent, all search warrants served during the investigation, and all statements from witnesses and potential suspects, among other things.
Gilleon made the requests under the California Public Records Act. Under the law, the public has access to many documents produced and maintained by state and local governments. However, there are exceptions, especially when police departments are involved, experts say.
In documents provided by Gilleon, the San Diego Police Department cited several of these exemptions when it denied the lawyer’s request.
The teen, now 18, alleges in a lawsuit that she was gang-raped by three former San Diego State football players, including Matt Araiza.
Gilleon’s client said in a separate lawsuit filed last month that the rape happened at a College Area home on Oct. 17. She was 17 years old at the time of the incident.
The suit alleges that former San Diego State punter Matt Araiza, then 21, sexually assaulted the teen in a side yard of the residence before bringing her into a bedroom where a group of men took turns assaulting her. Araiza was released from the Buffalo Bills following the lawsuit.
Zavier Leonard and Nowlin “Pa’a” Ewaliko were also named in the lawsuit and are no longer members of the San Diego State team.
No one has been charged in connection with the incident.
The Police Department provided a redacted copy of the initial crime report the young woman filed the day after she said the rape occurred, according to documents Gilleon shared with the San Diego Union-Tribune. Much of the report’s contents had already been shared by the young woman, now 18, with members of the media and in the lawsuit she filed in August.
The department also provided a brief summary of the DNA testing that had been done during the investigation. It said that DNA profiles of multiple assailants were identified from the rape exam and other pieces of evidence and that none were found in a Department of Justice DNA database of convicted offenders. Araiza’s lawyer, Kerry Armstrong, said his client voluntarily submitted his DNA to police last week.
The latest lawsuit argues that the information the Police Department provided fell well short of what it was required to release under state law.
Lawsuit accuses star punter Matt Araiza and two former San Diego State teammates of gang rape of a 17-year-old girl.
“The City’s and SDPD’s willingness to violate public records law is notorious, but in this case, it’s downright inhuman,” Gilleon said Friday. “A young gang-rape victim should not have to beg the police to follow the law.”
Gilleon said his client has a strong interest in the investigation and prosecution of her case, and added that for many survivors of a traumatic event, understanding exactly what happened can be an important part of their recovery.
Police officials said Friday that they could not comment on pending litigation; however, in the documents Gilleon shared, they said their decision to withhold documents the attorney had requested stemmed from several exemptions provided under state law.
“California law unfortunately imposes a number of significant barriers to full transparency when it comes to law enforcement,” said David Loy, legal director for the First Amendment Coalition.
For example, the state’s Public Records Act requires that police agencies release salient details about investigations — including statements from people involved in an incident and the statements of witnesses — unless disclosing that information would impede the successful completion of an investigation.
The 18-year-old expressed frustration with the ongoing police inquiry and the lack of action by San Diego State.
It’s one of the exemptions San Diego police officials cited in response to Gilleon’s request.
Loy said because the Police Department submitted its investigation to the San Diego County district attorney’s office for review last month, there’s “certainly an argument” that the investigation is complete.
“And you can’t endanger the nature of an investigation that is already completed,” he said.
Much of the language governing the release of public records in state law is subject to interpretation, Loy said. Because of that, it’s important for departments to not only detail the exemption they are citing in order to withhold records that would otherwise be made public, but also how that exemption applies specifically in this case.
The district attorney’s office is continuing to review the Police Department’s investigation into the incident.
Lawmakers cited Times investigations uncovering inconsistencies in how harassment and retaliation claims are investigated across California State University.
San Diego State — which was criticized for failing to quickly start an administrative inquiry into the allegations of misconduct by student athletes — is also investigating the incident. Police officials said they asked the university to hold off on looking into the matter to protect the integrity of the department’s investigation.
The school’s inquiry is ongoing.
Union-Tribune staff writer Teri Figueroa contributed to this report.
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