LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KTSM) — Former New Mexico State men’s basketball player Deuce Benjamin, his father William Benjamin Sr., former NMSU player Shakiru Odunewu and their attorney’s spoke at a news conference held on the campus of New Mexico State University, near the Pan American Center, on Wednesday morning.

The news conference held by the plaintiffs and their attorneys discussed the lawsuit filed 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 which 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 the incidents from taking place and did not report them to proper authorities.

“I haven’t been able to move on from this. My life hasn’t been the same because of this and I want people to know that I have changed,” Deuce Benjamin said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s news conference. “Weathering this storm hasn’t been easy.”

“I’ve been made to feel that I was crazy for asking questions and for wanting those questions to be answered,” William Benjamin, Deuce’s father, said in his opening statement at Wednesday’s news conference. “My son has been failed, my family has failed and as a father I feel like I failed my son.”

“Last year, I was a redshirt freshman for coach [Chris] Jans and the culture was different. Nothing like this ever happened,” Shakiru Odunewu said in the news conference. “There was discipline, there was an authority figure. It is just sad to see. Never in a million years did I think that something like this would ever happen.”

In the news conference, Joleen Youngers, attorney for both Deuce and William Benjamin, said they are waiting for the defendants to be served and are also waiting for an answer. Adding that the defendants will likely deny all allegations like defendants in most civil cases usually do.

“We know a vast majority of civil cases settle. If there is a good opportunity for settlement, we are open to it,” Youngers said in Wednesday’s press conference. “If not, we will go through and try this case.  If we are able to resolve the case sooner and get them [Shakiru Odunewu and Deuce Benjamin] back out on the basketball court that would probably be the best thing for them.”

William Benjamin spoke about his son’s interaction with new NMSU men’s basketball coach Jason Hooten. Deuce Benjamin said he was told by Hooten that it was in his best interest to leave the program.

“I don’t think you are supposed to press the reset button and lump in the victims with everybody else.” William Benjamin said.

As part of a letter that the New Mexico Higher Education Department sent to New Mexico State University it was instructed that the university look into Benjamin’s claims for potential retaliation by Hooten and the school. 

“The university should open another independent investigation regarding Coach Hooten’s comments recommending that a student continue his basketball career elsewhere, dismissing the legitimate concerns of the student, and potential retaliation,” Higher Education Department Cabinet Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez wrote.

In interviews with KTSM since he was hired, Hooten has maintained that he wants to do what’s best for the student-athlete in any situation.

“You feel sorry for a lot of people when stuff like that happens. As a coach, you know what your culture is and what you would do in those situations,” Hooten said last week.

In the news conference, the topic of current New Mexico State Athletic Director Mario Moccia’s contract extension was also brought up.

Moccia’s new five-year contract extension was signed and dated by Moccia and former NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu on April 7, 2023, the same day that Arvizu formally stepped down as the university’s chancellor. The university is currently early in the process of hiring a new chancellor.

Ramez Shamieh, one of Shakiru Odunewu’s attorneys, said he was “shocked” to find out Moccia was given a contract extension.

Will Marsaw, one of Shakiru Odunewu’s attorneys, said in Wednesday’s news conference that they have their own investigation going on that is trying to determine Moccia’s “level of knowledge and his level of action or inaction.” Marsaw added they would like to get more information from Moccia and him be more forthcoming.

The New Mexico State Faculty Senate expressed “deep concern” over a five-year contract extension that was handed to Moccia in April, according to a letter obtained by KTSM on Tuesday night.

Going back to the lawsuit, Youngers said she is feeling a sense of urgency from the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to get the case turned around. 

The case is still under investigation for possible criminal charges by the New Mexico Attorney General’s office.