LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – After New Mexico State terminated the contract of men’s basketball head coach Greg Heiar earlier this week, the fates of his assistant coaches are still up in the air.
NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu said in a lengthy press conference on Wednesday that the university would wait until the school’s investigations were over to make decisions on the employment statuses of Associate Head Coach Dominique Taylor; Assistant Coaches Brian Merritt and Chad Myers; Director of Basketball Operations Chad Donley; Video Coordinator Billy Keys; Director of Player Development Darin Graham; Heiar’s Special Assistant Lorenzo Jenkins; and Graduate Assistant Dylan Brown.
Since cancelling the remainder of NMSU’s season, the chancellor has spoken strongly about what transpired in Heiar and his staff’s 11 months in Las Cruces and what will happen as a result of it.
“There will be accountability, perhaps beyond what people expect would be the case just because it really is egregious,” Arvizu said on Wednesday.
As of Thursday, all eight assistants were on paid administrative leave, as they have been since Feb. 10 when serious allegations of hazing first emerged, forcing the chancellor to first indefinitely suspend, then subsequently cancel the remainder of the Aggies’ season.
A university official told KTSM on Thursday that the earliest any potential decisions regarding the assistant coaches’ statuses with NMSU – up to and including termination – would be next week, as the university continues what could be lengthy investigations into the alleged hazing incidents and the Nov. 19 deadly shooting in Albuquerque involving Aggies forward Mike Peake.
If any or all of Heiar’s assistants are found to be culpable in any way, it would appear that they could be terminated for cause with no monetary settlement, much like Heiar was on Tuesday.
A key detail to point out: all of Heiar’s assistants are working under year-to-year agreements with NMSU that will expire on April 30, 2023. Depending on the length of the investigation, what is discovered by the school or a myriad of other factors, the university could theoretically just keep the assistants on paid administrative leave until their contracts expire.
Arvizu said in Wednesday’s press conference that the shooting investigation was close to being completed, but that part of the hold-up was that Heiar and his legal counsel had been difficult to reach and that Heiar even neglected to show up to a scheduled meeting with NMSU related to the shooting investigation earlier this week.
“Part of the reason it hasn’t been completed is that the coach has representative counsel and it has been difficult to interview him,” Arvizu said. “In the context of that, we’ve looked at all the surrounding evidence to essentially bolster our case for the termination of the coach and in that context that decision was made based on the information that we have at the current time.”
Later in the news conference regarding the difficulties the school has had in interviewing Heiar, Arvizu said, “They had scheduled a meeting internally and that meeting was to be held earlier this week. The coach declined to show up.”
The chancellor termed the culture developed by Heiar and his staff as, “infected,” and said on multiple occasions that what had transpired during the 2022-23 season could never happen again at NMSU. The chancellor also has said that it was time for the program to reset, which would appear to indicate that the entire coaching staff would not return to the university if Arvizu gets his wish.
“As a parent, I’m angry and I know that this is not what anybody anticipated for students coming to our institution,” Arvizu said. “When that outcome is not what we desire, it behooves us to take full and strong action to ensure first that we send the right messages and second that it doesn’t happen again.”
With regards to the remaining players on NMSU’s roster, Arvizu said that the school would wait until the investigations are done to determine their fates.
However, Arvizu said that in the investigation into the Nov. 19 shooting – which he termed, “almost complete” – it was found that the student code of conduct had been violated.
“Student disciplinary hearings are occurring as we speak and there will be consequences,” Arvizu said. “As results of those investigations are completed we will be quick to share those and let you know what we have learned and to recognize those things that need to be improved.”
The details of how the code of conduct was violated and what punishments might come from them could not be discussed, Arvizu said, until the investigations were complete because of federal privacy laws.
Heiar was fired and his entire coaching staff placed on paid administrative leave after the release of a police report in which one NMSU player alleges that three of his teammates sexually assaulted him for over six months, both in the Pan American Center locker room and on the road.
According to that police report, the alleged incidents – which the victim said began in July or August of 2022 – would typically happen in front of the entire team and that no one ever intervened.
The victim told police he did not want to file charges, but the New Mexico State University police report states the investigation is still ongoing and the offenses described by the victim include criminal sexual contact, false imprisonment and harassment. A lawyer told KTSM on Monday that charges could still be filed, despite the victim not doing so as of now.
“Technically, it’s not up to the alleged victim on whether or not they want to pursue charges. That’s always up to the district attorney on whether or not they want to pursue charges,” said Ramona Martinez, a Las Cruces Defense attorney.
As of Thursday, no charges had been filed against any of the unnamed players in the police report.
All of these accusations against the New Mexico State program are completely unrelated to a separate ongoing investigation into a deadly self-defense shooting in Albuquerque on Nov. 19, 2022, involving now-suspended Aggies basketball player Mike Peake and four University of New Mexico students.
Police allege that the four students conspired to lure Peake to the UNM campus on Nov. 19, with plans of assaulting him as retribution for a fight at the Oct. 15 UNM-NMSU football game in Las Cruces. Peake and NMSU were in Albuquerque for the Nov. 19 rivalry game with UNM that was eventually cancelled.
Brandon Travis was killed in a shootout with Peake and Peake was shot in the leg after police say Brandon Travis, Eli’Sha Upshaw and Jonathan Smith assaulted Peake in the early morning hours of Nov. 19.
Surveillance footage shows Peake and a 17-year-old girl who allegedly helped lure Peake to UNM’s campus walking towards a UNM dormitory, when the three men run from behind them. Travis brandishes a gun in Peake’s face; one of the men – police reports say it was Upshaw – hits Peake in the abdomen with a baseball bat.
As Peake attempts to run away, surveillance footage shows Travis chasing after him, with his gun drawn. According to police, Travis fires his gun first, with Peake returning fire almost immediately.
According to an autopsy report, Travis was shot four times by Peake, while Peake was hit once in the leg.
Smith, Upshaw and the 17-year-old girl who helped lure Peake to campus that morning on the promise of sex were also charged with multiple felonies in relation to the case, including aggravated battery and conspiracy.
The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office announced in January that Smith had taken a plea agreement; Upshaw pleaded not guilty.
Neither Peake, nor anyone else associated with NMSU has been charged with a crime in that case as of now.
New Mexico State University is currently having the Rodey Law Firm conduct an external, third-party investigation of the events of Nov. 19 and the response to it by NMSU coaches, players and administrators. As Arvizu said Wednesday, that investigation is almost complete but has been held up, in part, because Heiar has declined to show up to meetings regarding the investigation.
Police say that three players – who they have identified Marchelus Avery, Issa Muhammad and Anthony Roy – can be seen on surveillance video aiding Peake in the moments after the shooting, as Peake places the gun, plus a tablet, into the trunk of a car.
On Nov. 30, 2022, New Mexico State Police served search warrants at the Pan American Center to Avery, Muhammad and Roy in the hours before the Aggies beat rival UTEP.
Police can be seen asking some members of the NMSU team if they were those three players, but they did not find them outside the Pan American Center. They also gave the paperwork to associate head coach Dominique Taylor, who turned the gun Peake used over to law enforcement in the hours following the shooting on Nov. 19.
After speaking with Taylor outside, law enforcement went into the coach’s offices inside the Pan American Center to speak with head coach Greg Heiar and handed him documents. Officers asked Heiar how to get a hold of some of the players to give them the search warrants.
Peake’s gun, tablet, and phone were all located later that day with various New Mexico State University officials. His tablet was found on NMSU’s bus after it stopped at a rest stop after leaving the hotel, and Esquibel had followed it there. Peake’s phone was given to the police by NMSU athletic department employee Ed Posaski.
According to the police report regarding the Nov. 19 shooting, the three players told head coach Greg Heiar the gun was located in a room on the hotel’s second floor; Heiar then called Taylor and directed him to retrieve it and hand it over to the police. On body camera footage, the detective asks Taylor if he has the gun over the phone; Taylor says yes.
“Coach Taylor explained that Issa, Marcelus, and Anthony told Coach Heiar where the firearm was at. Coach Heiar then called Coach Taylor and told him where the firearm was and to go get it. I had Coach Taylor show me which room he got the firearm from,” the report states.
Multiple sources told KTSM that Avery, Muhammad and Roy are not the players involved in the alleged hazing incidents that have emerged in the last few days. The three players who have left the program since last Saturday were also not the alleged hazing perpetrators.
New Mexico State saw its tumultuous season under first-year head coach Greg Heiar end abruptly, with a 9-15 record, 2-10 in WAC play.