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Former NMSU players file suit alleging sexual assault by teammates

Former NMSU players file suit alleging sexual assault by teammates

Two former New Mexico State men’s basketball players filed a lawsuit Wednesday, alleging they were sexually assaulted by teammates and that the coaching staff and other administrators did nothing when they reported the assaults.

The lawsuit was filed by Deuce Benjamin and another player who said three teammates forced them to pull their pants down below their ankles, then assaulted them. The Associated Press normally does not name people who say they were sexually assaulted, but Benjamin had earlier referenced the alleged assaults while announcing his departure from the team on social media.

Chancellor Dan Arvizu canceled the season in February after Benjamin took his allegations to school police. Arvizu framed the allegations as stemming from a hazing episode. The civil lawsuit, filed in district court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, takes issue with that description, saying, “when the behavior goes too far, and crosses the line into nonconsensual touching, it is not mere hazing; it is battery and sexual assault.”

The lawsuit lists as defendants the NMSU board of regents, two former members of the coaching staff and three former players. It seeks “amounts to reasonably compensate” the plaintiffs for their damages, as well as punitive damages. One count in the lawsuit alleges sexual assault, battery and false imprisonment.

School spokesperson Justin Bannister said New Mexico State is working with a law firm to investigate the allegations.

“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 assaults, the coach reacted by laughing and saying, “What do you want me to do about it?” It says the player discussed the assaults three times with another coach, who “said that 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 came in front of a group of women in a hotel room where the players were staying before a road game. It says one of the players “exposed Deuce’s backside and forcefully grabbed [him], inflicting great pain and humiliation. All this occurred in front of the women, which only added to Deuce’s degradation.”

Benjamin ultimately told his father, a former New Mexico State star and current high school coach in Las Cruces, about the assaults. 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 allegations to campus police, who opened an investigation.

The lawsuit says 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, that he should try to find a new place to play.

In a section titled “The Downward Spiral of the NMSU Basketball Program,” the lawsuit details events that led to the fatal shooting on Nov. 19, 2022, of a student at the University of New Mexico by NMSU player Mike Peake. Surveillance video shows Peake, who has not been charged in the shooting, 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, which police had to chase down so they could question the coaching staff and witnesses.

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

It comes less than two weeks after Arvizu said he would be leaving his position immediately, instead of waiting for his previously scheduled June 30 departure date.

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