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NMSU responds to governor’s request for action amid basketball hazing controversy

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (KVIA) -- NMSU has responded to a letter Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Stephanie Rodriguez, the Cabinet Secretary sent on April 24, asking the university to clarify how it is addressing the alleged hazing incident within the basketball program.

The letter from the New Mexico Higher Education Department was sent after the results of a recent investigation, and is planning to conduct additional investigations into all of the school's athletic programs.

NMSU's response letter was dated April 27.

"I will demand full cooperation from all of athletics staff and coaches. We will provide updates to you as soon as the work is complete. I anticipate the investigating agency to be on campus next week and complete their work within three weeks," Interim Chancellor Jay Gogue wrote in response.

Less than two weeks ago, two former NMSU basketball players - Deuce Benjamin, Shakiru Odunewu and William Benjamin (Deuce's father) filed a lawsuit against the university, two former coaches, and three teammates, DeShawndre Washington, Doctor Bradley and Kim Aiken Jr.

The plaintiffs allege they were sexually assaulted in multiple hazing incidents. According to court documents, the pair say that the coaches named in the lawsuit were aware of the assault, yet chose not to do anything to address the matter.

"The current culture and climate in New Mexico State University’s athletics program does not reflect values under which the university was established nor the standard that New Mexico students deserve. We must ensure that all New Mexico students are safe and fully supported at all times. We expect that New Mexico State University will step up to uphold that duty to our students and New Mexicans," wrote Cabinet Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez.

The letter also states that if new Coach Jason Hooten asking Deuce Benjamin to leave the program that would "constitute as retaliation against a local, home-grown athlete and New Mexican for the act of coming forward with legitimate concerns and allegations of abuse and hazing."

In a statement on twitter on April, 18th Deuce wrote "Coach Hooten recently informed me that it would be in my best interest to continue my education and basketball career elsewhere."

On April 19th Deuce, Shak and William filed the lawsuit.

ABC-7 asked Coach Hooten last week if it was his intention to wipe the slate clean and not have any players from the 2022-23 roster on his team.

"I don't know if I would necessarily say an intention," Hooten said. "I know there are lot of things that have been discussed and people are out there saying so many things but you have to understand that the important thing sometimes is for the student athletes to be able to you know have a different opportunity where things are different and they're clear and starting over for everybody might be the best thing."

The letter asks that NMSU conduct a thorough independent investigation to identify the extent of misconduct and protect any student who comes forward with information or concerns without retaliation.

"This investigation should include a rigorous review of personnel, policies, documented complaints, and discipline," Rodriguez said in the letter. "Additionally, the university should open another independent investigation regarding Coach Hooten’s comments recommending that a student continue his basketball career elsewhere, dismissing the legitimate concerns of the student, and potential retaliation."

In response NMSU said that they will ask Greenberg Traurig, the law firm tasked with investigating the hazing allegations and how they were handled, to open a separate investigation specifically to look into the interaction between Coach Hooten and Deuce.

In the letter Interim Chancellor Jay Gogue also said that they plan on hiring a firm to complete a full investigation into the 16 NCAA sponsored athletic programs and all of the athletic personnel.

It also states that athletics leadership have met with the women's soccer team about hazing, Jerry Kill addressed the entire football program and Jody Adams spoke to every member of the women's basketball team.

Article Topic Follows: Sports

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Rachel Phillips


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