New Mexico Attorney General gives insight into investigation of New Mexico State University
Last week, a press conference was held by former NMSU basketball players and their attorneys outside of NMSU’s Pan American Center, where William Benjamin Jr., also known as Deuce, grew up watching games and dreaming about playing for the Aggies just like his father. But he said that dream spiraled into a nightmare.
“Being able to go through this pain isn’t easy. As you can see. But all you can do is weather the storm. All you can do is weather the storm and stay positive through this whole process,” Deuce said.
A civil lawsuit was filed last month that alleged that Shakiru Odunewu and Deuce Benjamin Jr. were sexually assaulted by other players while playing for the school’s basketball program, and the school failed to intervene despite being aware of the assaults.
New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said that he has talked with the lawyers involved with the civil case, and that the AG’s office is currently working to schedule interviews with relevant parties of the criminal investigation.
“We are not only going to be looking at the criminal investigation into the underlying conduct of the players and people who were engaged in this directly, but we will also be separately conducting an investigation into the institution's response and into the institution's policies, practices, and procedures," he said. "[We will look at] what kind of training they have in place, what kind of protocol they have in place, so that this kind of information is transmitted to the relevant authorities as soon as possible. That's what is key for us to make sure that another group of players or student-athletes is not harmed in a similar way in the future.”
Torrez said that he talked with the governor about crafting legislation to deter incidents of hazing at institutions in the state.
“I think it’s fair to say that the governor and the administration and I look at this the same way in the sense that it is totally unacceptable, and it is totally inexcusable,” he said. “We need to have everyone in the state on the same page about how serious this is, what our expectations are, not only for students and kids, I’m more concerned about what adults did or failed to do. Because that’s where the focus really needs to be is making sure that responsible adults know what their obligations are, and they act accordingly.”
William Benjamin, father of Deuce, Aggie Basketball Hall of Famer, and Las Cruces High School Coach made it clear that he was disappointed with the university’s lack of communication after a November shooting on the UNM campus that left a UNM student dead and then NMSU basketball player Mike Peake injured.
“New Mexico State has a murder on [their] resume. As a parent I wasn’t even called about that. Just to reassure me that my son is going to be ok,” he said. “No one has a crystal ball. And no one bats 1000. But we still hold people accountable for their actions about what they do and do not do.”
One of the attorneys, Ramez Shamieh, said that he was shocked that Athletic Director Mario Moccia got acontract extension in the midst of the controversy surrounding the university and that when they talked in February with Roy Collins III, Chief Legal Officer of NMSU, he wasn’t even aware of the allegations of hazing.
“It was almost to a point where we thought he was messing with us. We thought he knew, but that he was trying to see what we knew. He had no clue. And so I think that gives you a good idea of how the school is operating.”
NMSU faculty senate voted on Thursday to send a letter to university leadership on [quote], "Deep concern regarding the contract renewal of the NMSU Athletic Director and the lack of following NMSU Mission, Vision and Values."
When KRWG reached out to NMSU for a response, a spokesperson sent back a written response that said [quote], “NMSU is committed to doing what’s needed ensure the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to ensure that all concerns and issues are addressed. We take seriously the allegations that have been made, and we will work closely with the Attorney General’s Office and other agencies to protect the safety of all members of our community.”
As of May 8, no criminal charges have been filed against any current or former NMSU players or Employees in regard to the hazing incident or the UNM shooting, but investigations are still ongoing.