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.