In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, two New Mexico State University men's basketball players claim they were sexually assaulted and humiliated repeatedly by three teammates, and that when they approached coaches about the alleged abuse nothing was done.
As reported by the Albuquerque Journal, the lawsuit filed in state District Court names the NMSU Board of Regents; former head coach Greg Heiar and assistant coach Dominique Taylor, and players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington for their roles in a hazing scandal within the men’s team that eventually led to the cancellation of the Aggies’ season and the firing of Heiar.
The suit was brought by William Benjamin, who starred for the Aggies in the late 1980s and early ’90s; his son, William “Deuce” Benjamin Jr.; and Shakiru Odunewu. The younger Benjamin recently announced in a social media post that he was entering the transfer portal. Odunewu has also left the program, the Journal reported.
“While NMSU does not comment on pending litigation, we want to assure everyone that this issue is being taken seriously,” NMSU spokesman Justin Bannister said in a statement. “As we announced earlier this year, the university is working with (the law firm) Greenberg Traurig to look into these allegations. Their work is underway and running in parallel to our own internal investigation into this matter.”
Some of the allegations include that Aiken, Bradley and Washington repeatedly targeted Odunewu and Benjamin, degraded them repeatedly and at times physically pinned the players down and touched them in ways that rose to the level of sexual assault, according to the lawsuit.
“When the behavior goes too far, and crosses the line into non-consensual touching, it is not mere hazing; it is battery and sexual assault,” the defendants wrote in the complaint. “When the behavior continues for months, it cannot be viewed as an initiation rite; instead, it is harassment and abuse.”
In the summer of 2022, the three basketball players named in the lawsuit started to “degrade” Odunewu, a devout Muslim, with cruel comments and unwanted touching, according to the suit.
In one case, they opened the curtain when he was showering and forced him to do squats as they slapped his buttocks. During a road trip, the three players pinned him to the ground, pulled down his pants and underwear, and sexually assaulted him, according to the complaint.
The suit alleges that Odunewu reported the incidents to Heiar and Taylor in November, but Taylor laughed at him, allegedly asking Odunewu: “What do you want me to do?”
As reported by Ryan Boetel and Geoff Grammer of the Journal, the suit states that Benjamin faced similar treatment, often in the locker room and sometimes in front of coaches. One incident happened after he was pulled into a hotel room and assaulted in front of players and some young women who were hanging out with the team. He struggled with his classes and to be a part of the team because of the mental and physical abuse he was suffering, the suit said.
The suit alleges that the player’s father reached out to Heiar and NMSU Athletic Director Mario Moccia, neither of whom returned his calls. The elder Benjamin in the lawsuit is arguing that the scandal has harmed the relationship between him and his son and he is entitled to damages.
According to the Journal, no charges have been filed in connection to any of the incidents mentioned in the lawsuit.