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 took no action 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 to below their ankles and then attacked them. The Associated Press doesn’t typically credit people who say they’ve been sexually assaulted, but Benjamin had done so in the past referred to 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 formulated the allegations as a result of a vexatious episode. The civil lawsuit, filed in District Court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, challenges that description, saying, “When the behavior goes too far and crosses the line into non-consensual touching, it’s not just bullying, it’s aggressive and sexual assault.”
The lawsuit lists as defendants the NMSU board of directors, two former members of the coaching staff and three former players. It seeks “amounts of reasonable compensation” from plaintiffs for their harm, as well as punitive damages. One case in the lawsuit alleges sexual assault, assault and false imprisonment.
School Boy Justin Bannister said the state of New Mexico is working with a law firm to investigate the allegations.
“While NMSU is not commenting on pending litigation, we want to assure everyone that this issue is being taken seriously,” Bannister said.
The lawsuit states that when the player, whose name the AP doesn’t use, first confronted an assistant coach about the attacks, the coach responded by laughing and saying, “What should I do about it?” It states , the player has discussed the attacks three times with another manager who “said he would look into it and would issue some bans” but no action was taken.
The lawsuit states that one of several attacks against Benjamin took place in front of a group of women in a hotel room where the players were staying before an away game. It states that one of the players “exposed and violently grabbed Deuce’s buttocks [him], inflicting great pain and humiliation. All of this happened in front of the women, which only added to Deuce’s humiliation.”
Benjamin eventually told his father, a former New Mexico State star and current high school coach at Las Cruces, about the abuse. His father, William Benjamin, tried to reach coaches and the school’s athletic director Mario Moccia, but no one answered his calls, the lawsuit said. This led to the player taking his allegations to the campus police, who launched 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, to try to find a new place to play.
In a section titled “The Downward Spiral of the NMSU Basketball Program,” the lawsuit details the events leading up to the fatal shooting of a University of New Mexico student by NMSU player Mike Peake on November 19, 2022. Surveillance video shows Peake, who has not been charged in the shooting, defending himself after student Brandon Travis pointed a gun at him. The morning after the shooting, most of the NMSU players were loaded onto a team bus for police to track so they could question coaching staff and witnesses.
Benjamin’s departure leaves just one player in the 2022-23 team’s roster.
It comes less than two weeks after Arvizu said he would leave his position immediately, rather than wait for his previously scheduled departure date of June 30.