LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico State University has agreed to pay $8 million to settle a lawsuit over hazing allegations in the men’s basketball program. William ‘Deuce’ Benjamin Jr. and Shakiru Odunewu accused teammates Doctor Bradley, Kim Aiken Jr., and Deshawndre Washington of sexually harassing and abusing them during the past season. They also say the coaching staff and university did nothing about it.
According to documents, Odunewu will receive $3,875,000 and Benjamin Jr. and his father will receive $4,125,000. The scandal forced NMSU to cancel the last six games of the season and cost Coach Greg Heiar his job.
State records reveal this is NMSU’s costliest settlement in recent history.
“They have had the courage to expose what happened to them in order to seek justice,” Joleen Youngers, attorney for the plaintiffs, said during a May 3rd news conference. Records made public on Wednesday show the State of New Mexico will pay $8 million to settle the lawsuit two Aggie basketball players filed in April against the NMSU’s Board of Regents, its former head coach, and three fellow teammates.
“It is not mere hazing, it is battery and sexual assault,” the lawsuit states. Shak Odunewu said he felt especially bad for his teammate Benjamin Jr. whose hometown is Las Cruces. They both addressed the lawsuit publicly during a press conference in May.
“Coming into our freshman years, our concern should be along the lines of, you know, how are we gonna play? How are we gonna stay on the court? How are we gonna be dominating this program? Not – are we gonna be safe?” Odunewu said.
In July of last year, Odunewu was offered a full-ride athletic scholarship to play for NMSU basketball. According to the lawsuit, his teammates Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley, and Deshawndre Washington were “Frequently inappropriate, disrespectful, degrading, and violent toward their fellow team members, particularly those who were quieter and less accustomed to a rough environment.”
Odunewu said he was the victim of harassment for months, including “unwanted physical and sexual contact.” At least one incident in the shower, the lawsuit states, was filmed by Bradley.
“I’m proud of myself that I survived those days when I felt I couldn’t,” an emotional Benjamin Jr. stated in May. He dreamed of becoming an Aggie basketball player on the heels of his father’s legendary career there.
“My dream turned into a nightmare real quick, and I never expected this to happen my freshman year,” Benjamin Jr. added. “There’s a part of me that hasn’t been the same now, and I want people to know that.”
Benjamin Jr. claims he was also a frequent target of the trio since last summer, alleging mental and physical attacks in the locker room and on the road.
“Coach Heiar and his staff emboldened and empowered Aiken, Bradley, and Washington, giving them substantial power over their teammates,” the lawsuit states. Heiar was fired in February.
Public records indicate this is one of the highest-paid settlements by the university in state history. “It tells us that the lawsuit was taken very seriously,” Youngers told KRQE News 13. “Not only was the lawsuit taken seriously by NMSU, but the harms that were suffered by my clients.”
When asked about her confidence in NMSU’s Athletic Department’s ability to move forward and have a successful program, Youngers replied, “I hope they can. They have pledged to make a number of improvements to have more oversight. I hope they can fix what I believe were some serious systemic failures that led to all of this happening.”
NMSU’s Board of Regents would not comment on how they came to this agreement. The Attorney General’s Office is still investigating the case to decide whether any players or coaches should face criminal charges.
KRQE News 13 reached out to the Governor’s office for a comment on the $8M settlement. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Press Secretary provided the following written statement:
Caroline Sweeney, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Press Secretary
“Hazing in athletics is a pervasive issue that must no longer go unchecked. The fact that students were hurt in one of our oldest and most trusted collegiate athletics programs is especially saddening and completely unacceptable. Our hope is this money will help these players continue to access care they need to move forward. New Mexico State University cannot wait any longer to implement changes to keep these harmful practices from happening ever again.”