LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – Eight days after a lawsuit was filed by two former New Mexico State men’s basketball players alleging sexual assault and hazing against three of their teammates, the case is still under investigation for possible criminal charges by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.
The case was referred by the Dona Ana District Attorney’s office to the Attorney General on April 13 for a criminal investigation, as KTSM reported last week.
Deputy Attorney General John Duran will be one of the lead prosecutors in the case, if criminal charges are indeed brought by the state. Duran spoke with KTSM about the ongoing investigation on Thursday, saying it was too early to tell if criminal charges would indeed eventually be filed.
“We’re looking for case viability and what that means is, is there enough evidence to convict a person?” Duran said. “It starts with the probable cause determination but really what we’re looking at is to make sure that we have a really strong case.”
Former NMSU player Deuce Benjamin, his father William Benjamin Sr. and former NMSU player Shakiru Odunewu filed a lawsuit against the NMSU Board of Regents; former head coach Greg Heiar and former associate head coach Dominique Taylor; and former NMSU players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington on April 19.
The lawsuit makes multiple allegations of sexual assault, harassment and hazing against the three players that occurred from July of 2022 until February of 2023. It also alleges that Heiar and Taylor were made aware of the allegations as early as Nov. 12, 2022, and did nothing to stop them from taking place and did not report them to the proper authorities.
“The allegations are pretty alarming, especially for such a large and well-known institution especially within our own state,” Duran said. “Nobody should be victimized as it has been alleged, so we want to make sure that there is a thorough investigation and we get that justice if we need to.”
Duran said that the case has been on the Attorney General’s radar for a while due to the public nature of it. However, it wasn’t until the civil case was filed last week and the Dona Ana D.A. referred the case to the Attorney General’s office that they began their investigation.
The bulk of the case file was delivered to Duran and the rest of his office last week. There is no timeline for the completion of the investigation, but Duran said they hope to have it done as soon as possible.
“We’ve handled cases like this before investigating both individuals and institutions, so we feel like we’re well-equipped to take the lead on an investigation like this,” Duran said. “We’re taking a fresh look at the entire case. We’re going to move as quickly as we can on our end to try to push things because the longer things stagnate, memories fade, things happen. We’ll push it on our end as quickly as we can.”
On Wednesday, NMSU responded to the lawsuit. The university’s response came one week after the lawsuit was filed and one day after a closed-door Board of Regents meeting was held to discuss the case.
“New Mexico State University has reviewed the recent lawsuit filed by Deuce and William Benjamin and Shakiru Odunewu concerning the Men’s Basketball Program, and it continues to regard this matter as extremely important,” the statement reads. “NMSU has taken extensive measures, including, without limitation: recalling the entire basketball team from their road trip out of state, placing the entire coaching staff on administrative leave, launching an investigation, making mental health counseling available, canceling the remainder of the season, and firing the head coach. The kind of behavior described in those allegations has no place on our campus, and the university will soon launch a task force to facilitate implementation of preventive measures whose purpose is to identify and extinguish any opportunity for this to occur in the future.”
This case is completely separate to an investigation into a deadly shooting on Nov. 19, 2022, involving former NMSU forward Mike Peake. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office is currently reviewing it for possible charges, but at this time, no one affiliated with NMSU has been charged in that case. Three UNM students have been charged with multiple crimes in that case.