NCAA basketball scandal: Two New Mexico State players file sexual assault lawsuit against school

Former New Mexico State basketball guard Deuce Benjamin and an unknown player are suing the school over allegations that they were sexually assaulted by teammates, adding that the coaching staff and administrators took no action when the incident was reported.

Benjamin previously made the allegations public when he announced his intention to move away from the school in Las Cruces. He says three teammates forced him and the other accuser to pull their pants down below their ankles before sexually assaulting the two.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu canceled the season in February after Benjamin presented his allegations to the school police. Arvizu took the allegations as coming from hazing. The civil lawsuit, filed in district court in Las Cruces, challenged that description, saying, “when the behavior goes too far and crosses the line into involuntary touching, it is not mere hazing; it’s battery and assault.”

The lawsuit listed as defendants the NMSU Board of Regents, two former coaching staff members, and three former players. It seeks ‘amounts to reasonably compensate’ the plaintiffs for their damages, and for punitive damages against the defendants. A count in the lawsuit alleges assault, battery and false imprisonment.

School spokesman Justin Bannister said the state of New Mexico is working with a law firm to investigate the allegations. NMSU head coach Greg Heiar was fired on February 14 as a result of the scandal.

Deuce Benjamin

Deuce Benjamin (left, right) and an unknown player are suing the state of New Mexico

“While NMSU does not comment on pending litigation, we want to assure everyone that this issue is being taken seriously,” Bannister said.

The lawsuit says that when the player whose name the AP is not using first approached an assistant coach about the incidents, the coach laughed and said, “What do you want me to do about it?” It says the player discussed the incidents three times with another coach, who “said he was looking into it and would issue some suspensions,” but no action was taken.

The lawsuit says one of a number of assaults against Benjamin happened in front of a group of women in a hotel room where the players stayed for a road race. It says that one of the players ‘exposed Deuce’s backside and grabbed (him) forcefully, causing great pain and humiliation. All of this happened in front of the women, which only degraded Deuce.”

Benjamin eventually told his father, a former New Mexico state star and current Las Cruces high school coach, about the attacks. His father, William Benjamin, tried to reach coaches and the school’s athletic director, Mario Moccia, but neither returned his calls, the lawsuit said. That led to the player taking his story to campus police, who opened an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, the school’s new coach, Jason Hooten, told Benjamin, who was New Mexico’s Gatorade high school player of the year before signing with the Aggies, to try and find a new place to play.

The New Mexico State men's basketball team abruptly called off the rest of the season

The New Mexico State men’s basketball team abruptly called off the rest of the season

In a section titled “The Downward Spiral of the NMSU Basketball Program,” the lawsuit details events leading up to the November 19, 2022 fatal shooting of a University of New Mexico student by NMSU player Mike Peake.

Peake, who has not been charged in the shooting, is shown on video acting in self-defense after the student, Brandon Travis, pulled a gun on him. The morning after the shooting, most of the NMSU players were loaded onto a team bus for police to chase so they could question coaching staff and witnesses.

Benjamin’s departure leaves only one player on the team’s 2022-23 roster.

It comes less than two weeks after Arvizu said he would leave immediately, rather than wait for his previously scheduled June 30 departure date.

New Mexico State finished the season 9–15, with only two conference wins in 12 games. Long a source of pride for their 13,000 student campus in Las Cruces, the Aggies have attended eight NCAA Tournaments since 2007. Next season they will move from the WAC to Conference-USA.

The scrubbing of the 2022-23 campaign came a day after two players quit following initial reports of the hazing incident.

One of them, college freshman Shahar Lazar, said he left because “I don’t think the program I originally applied for aligns with my beliefs and core values.”

NMSU head coach Greg Heiar (pictured here as an LSU assistant) was fired

NMSU head coach Greg Heiar (pictured here as an LSU assistant) was fired