College Pays $8M to Settle Basketball Players' Abuse Suit

New Mexico State University settled an $8 million lawsuit over alleged neglect, sexual assault, and false imprisonment of basketball players.

Basketball Court

ByZach Barreto

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Published on May 21, 2024

Basketball Court

New Mexico State University has agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit filed in New Mexico state court by Shakiru Odunewu, William Benjamin Jr., and his father William Benjamin. (William Deuce Benjamin et al. v. Board of Regents of New Mexico State University et al., case number D-307-cv-202300911, in the State of New Mexico, Third Judicial District Court, County of Doña Ana.) The suit alleges claims against the school of neglect, sexual assault, and false imprisonment of two basketball players.

The named defendants include the university's board of regents, now former head coach Greg Heiar, former assistant coach Dominique Taylor, and former players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley, and Deshawndre Washington. In an $8 million victory, the defendants will pay the Benjamins $4.125 million and Odunewu $3.875 million, according to the settlement agreements.

The two basketball players accused the school of creating and failing to correct an atmosphere that allowed their fellow teammates to commit relentless sexual assault and abuse against them disguised as hazing. According to the complaint, the three defendants were accused of regularly being inappropriate, disrespectful, degrading, and violent toward their fellow team members, particularly those who were more reserved and unaccustomed to a harsh environment. Additionally, among the numerous allegations, the suit accused the defendants of degrading Odunewu through unwanted sexually charged touching and cruel comments while in the locker room. In one such incident, Bradley, and Aiken ambushed Odunewu while in the shower room and forced the player to do squats as they slapped his buttocks while filming the incident, traumatizing the plaintiff.

The complaint also alleged the three players directed this same inappropriate behavior toward Benjamin, physically assaulted and mentally abused him in 2022.

According to the suit, Benjamin's father worked to contact the coaches but was unable to garner a response. He then felt compelled to take his concerns to the NMSU police, who opened an investigation into the allegations. The lawsuit goes on to claim that despite additional players on the team reporting they experienced similar conditions, the coaches took no action to put an end to the abuse and ignored the player’s complaints. The lawsuit also states that due to the coach’s negligence and failure to act, the three defendant’s acts of sexual assault and battery were allowed to continue and escalate.

The university retained Greenberg Traurig LLP to investigate the allegations. As part of their investigation, the firm interviewed athletic department directors along with other department heads, school directors, and administrators. The firm has recommended that the university retain an independent third party to review and revise its current training materials to include improved hazing prevention, information, and appropriate response. The firm additionally recommended that the school conduct a review and overhaul of the working relationships, organizational effectiveness, and reporting structures of all relevant New Mexico State University departments in charge of hazing prevention, response training, and investigative protocols to better respond to any future hazing allegations. Justin Bannister, a spokesman for the university, said the university is “pleased this situation has now come to a resolution and all parties are able to move forward." Bannister also said NMSU is working to implement the recommendations.

The plaintiffs are represented by Joleen K. Youngers of Almanzar & Youngers PA, Mark L. Pickett of The Pickett Law Firm LLC, Will L. Marsaw of Jones Herbert Campbell Marsaw LLP, and Ramez Shamieh and Myles Lenz of Shamieh Law PLCC.

Information regarding counsel for the defendants has not been made immediately available.

About the author

Zach Barreto

Zach Barreto

Zach Barreto is a distinguished professional in the legal industry, currently serving as the Senior Vice President of Research at the Expert Institute. With a deep understanding of a broad range of legal practice areas, Zach's expertise encompasses personal injury, medical malpractice, mass torts, defective products, and many other sectors. His skills are particularly evident in handling complex litigation matters, including high-profile cases like the Opioids litigation, NFL Concussion Litigation, California Wildfires, 3M earplugs, Elmiron, Transvaginal Mesh, NFL Concussion Litigation, Roundup, Camp Lejeune, Hernia Mesh, IVC filters, Paraquat, Paragard, Talcum Powder, Zantac, and many others.

Under his leadership, the Expert Institute’s research team has expanded impressively from a single member to a robust team of 100 professionals over the last decade. This growth reflects his ability to navigate the intricate and demanding landscape of legal research and expert recruitment effectively. Zach has been instrumental in working on nationally significant litigation matters, including cases involving pharmaceuticals, medical devices, toxic chemical exposure, and wrongful death, among others.

At the Expert Institute, Zach is responsible for managing all aspects of the research department and developing strategic institutional relationships. He plays a key role in equipping attorneys for success through expert consulting, case management, strategic research, and expert due diligence provided by the Institute’s cloud-based legal services platform, Expert iQ.

Educationally, Zach holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and European History from Vanderbilt University.

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