LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – Three former New Mexico State University men’s basketball players were found responsible of multiple university sexual misconduct violations, according to an NMSU Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) “notice of determination” obtained by KTSM through an anonymous source this week.
An outside “decision-maker” brought in from a consulting firm not affiliated with the university found that former NMSU players Kim Aiken Jr., Doctor Bradley and Deshawndre Washington had violated multiple university Title IX policies, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, through a hazing process the trio called, “humbling,” documents show. All three were on the NMSU roster during the 2022-23 season under then-head coach Greg Heiar.
The OIE notice of determination was issued earlier this week and stems from two separate cases, the first of which was reported to NMSU on Dec. 31, 2022, and pertained to a student associated with the men’s basketball program. The second report was made in February, 2023, after NMSU’s 2022-23 season was cancelled and Heiar was fired when accusations of hazing, sexual assault and harassment surfaced in a New Mexico State University police report filed by former NMSU teammates of Aiken Jr., Bradley and Washington.
In June, NMSU agreed to pay an $8 million sexual assault and hazing lawsuit settlement to former players Deuce Benjamin, Shakiru Odunewu and Deuce’s father, William Benjamin, which is related to the February OIE filing. The New Mexico Attorney General’s office is also still actively investigating the case at large for potential criminal charges related to the allegations of sexual assault, harassment and hazing.
Documents obtained by KTSM show that OIE interviewed over 40 witnesses, including the Complainants and Respondents in the case. According to the OIE report, the three respondents Aiken Jr., Bradley and Washington were found responsible for violations of three separate Title IX policies: Sexual Harassment (Unwelcome Conduct), Sexual Assault (Fondling) and for violating NMSU’s prohibition of Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment.
OIE found that Aiken Jr., Bradley and Washington were not responsible for violating NMSU’s prohibition of Sexual Assault (Rape).
“The findings support the allegations in the lawsuit. It vindicated their (the Benjamins and Odunewu) position. The findings were not really softened by word choice,” said Joleen K. Youngers, an attorney for the Benjamin family. “One of the things we asserted in the lawsuit was that this was not just a simple case of hazing gone bad, it was much more than that. In the final determination of the Title IX hearing officer, we don’t see a focus on hazing, we see a focus on much more serious claims and much more serious wrongs.”
According to the OIE notice of determination, a fourth former NMSU player originally included in the investigation was cleared by the decision maker, the report said, because of insufficient evidence. KTSM has chosen not to identify him because he was not found responsible.
The three former players found responsible are no longer enrolled at NMSU, meaning the university is unable to discipline the trio, though documents show that OIE said their conduct would, “warrant expulsion,” if still enrolled.
“The decision-maker determined that Washington, Aiken, and Bradley are responsible for multiple violations of NMSU policy, including Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment as defined by Title IX,” the document reads as part of its final findings. “Washington, Aiken, and Bradley had, at the time of the hearing, transferred from NMSU, and the University no longer has disciplinary authority sufficient to impose punitive or corrective sanctions.”
The OIE decision-maker later continued, “Sexual Assault is one of the most egregious forms of conduct prohibited by NMSU. The sustained charges of Sexual Assault in this case included intimidation, coercion, and forced physical contact despite verbal and physical resistance. The acts were violent, physical sexual assaults that have no place in any academic program or activity at NMSU. Washington, Aiken, and Bradley should not be eligible to re-enroll or rejoin the NMSU community in any capacity. The University should evaluate any remaining entanglements with Washington, Aiken, and Bradley to ensure complete and permanent separation, as their conduct would warrant expulsion if they were still subject to NMSU jurisdiction.”
Bradley is currently listed as a member of the Nicholls State (La.) men’s basketball roster for the 2023-24 season. Multiple attempts by KTSM to contact Nicholls State regarding the university’s decision to add Bradley to the men’s basketball team amid months of allegations and his ultimate finding of responsibility by NMSU went unanswered by Nicholls State officials.
“Why do we do these Title IX proceedings? Do we do them simply to say, ‘policies were followed or not, here’s how it impacts this program,’ or is part of it to be notice elsewhere? Don’t we want it to be preventative?” Youngers said. “Part of it mattering is not only impact for these players, for these people involved in this situation, but to have an impact on collegiate athletics as a whole, to say, ‘this behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in a college basketball program.'”
Aiken Jr. and Washington are not playing college basketball this season and may still be pursuing professional careers.
KTSM could not reach any of the three former players for comment, despite attempts to speak with them for this story. NMSU officials declined interviews, instead referring KTSM to a statement.
“In the time since these allegations were first brought to the university’s attention, NMSU has launched multiple investigations, canceled the remainder of the previous basketball season, terminated our previous head coach, and begun to put safeguards in place to ensure this never happens again,” the statement reads. “We now have a completely new coaching staff and a completely different group of student athletes in place and we look forward to them representing this university with integrity.”
A ritual called ‘humbling’
According to OIE’s notice of determination, Washington was the, “ringleader,” of what was termed, “humbling,” by the three respondents. The OIE notice of determination states that the allegations of abuse began in November of 2022 and continued until early 2023.
According to the OIE report, “humbling,” usually took place in the NMSU locker room at the Pan American Center, but the report states that it also occurred on the team bus and at a team hotel on at least one instance.
Complainants and witnesses told OIE that, “humbling,” typically “involved compelling an individual to pull down their shorts, exposing their private parts, to perform tasks like jumping jacks, defensive slides, squats, and other acts in view of fellow players and other bystanders.
“Complainants further alleged that many of these encounters included touching, grabbing, or fondling of the individual’s penis or scrotum and slapping the individual’s buttocks. In one instance, a Complainant described having his anus penetrated with one of the Respondents’ fingers while Complainant was being ‘humbled,'” the report stated.
According to the OIE report, Aiken Jr., Bradley and one of the complainants were on hand for a hearing held over Zoom regarding the case on Oct. 18, 2023, and submitted to cross-examination by an outside and unbiased, “decision-maker,” brought in by NMSU and OIE from a third-party consulting firm to oversee the hearing. The two other complainants, Washington, the fourth former player and all other witnesses were not present and were not cross-examined.
The decision-maker applied the presumption of innocence at the start of the hearing and makes a ruling based on the preponderance of evidence.
The presumption of innocence is also why Aiken Jr., Bradley and Washington were allowed to continue playing for NMSU during the start of the initial investigation in January and February, because the investigation had not progressed far enough to warrant discipline at that point, according to a school official.
Student disciplinary hearing verdicts are made by a preponderance of evidence, which means that the decision-maker rules that they are more than likely to have committed the offense.
In the decision-maker’s finding of fact during the hearing, Aiken Jr., Bradley and the complainant present all described similar situations regarding the “humbling” that would occur. The three hearing participants agreed that Washington was the, “ringleader,” and was the one that would initiate the interactions, documents show.
Aiken Jr. and Bradley agreed during the hearing that if players resisted Washington, he would, “call on Aiken and Bradley to assist Washington by standing over the player and intimidating them into compliance with Washington’s demand that the player pull down their shorts, expose their private parts, and perform some task. Aiken and Bradley denied touching the individuals’ private parts but agreed that Washington would often grab the individual’s penis or scrotum,” according to the OIE report.
Bradley also said in the hearing that Washington grabbed his scrotum on one occasion.
Complainants and witnesses alike told OIE that NMSU’s team chemistry rapidly deteriorated during the time period where the alleged abuse was most prevalent. Some players wanted to leave the team and avoided certain teammates or areas where the conduct was most prevalent.
The report also mentions there was, “confusion at the lack of coach intervention,” until a team meeting in early 2023, after which, the OIE report states, that the alleged abuse stopped.
“Complainants and witnesses indicated that the process of ‘humbling’ stopped shortly after the start of 2023 when the basketball team was warned in a team meeting that any behavior that appeared to be ‘horseplay’ could be construed as ‘hazing’ and should stop,” according to the report. Additionally, Odunewu alleged in the lawsuit filed last spring that he told the coaching staff multiple times about the alleged abuse.
Neither former head coach Greg Heiar, nor any of his former assistant coaches are specifically named in OIE’s notice of determination. However, the report’s indication of a team meeting in an attempt to stop the ‘horseplay,’ would appear to conflict with Heiar’s version of events.
Heiar claimed in arbitration documents obtained over the summer by KTSM that no one within NMSU’s athletic department alerted him to any of the allegations until Feb. 9, 2023, one day before the Aggies’ 2022-23 season was suspended and eventually cancelled altogether.
NMSU said in its arbitration response to Heiar that it would be against Title IX policies to alert him of the hazing allegations once an OIE investigation is initiated. Heiar is now the head men’s basketball coach at Mineral Area College, a junior college in Missouri.
The Aggies were 9-15 in 2022-23 when school officials canceled their season on Feb. 12. Heiar was subsequently fired on Feb. 14 and was replaced by new head coach Jason Hooten in March. NMSU is scheduled to open the 2023-24 season Nov. 6 at Kentucky.
NMSU records also show that there may have been other possible victims beyond the complainants in the case, but OIE was unable to corroborate those claims, despite attempting to do so.
In a separate and heavily-redacted final investigative report obtained by KTSM through open records requests, NMSU discovered, “other individuals that were either named as having been subjected to or disclosed similar behavior occurring to them. OIE conducted or attempted to conduct follow up conversations with those identified individuals. Several individuals either declined to proceed with further OIE action or denied that the allegations occurred. Others were non-responsive to OIE.”
Any of the parties involved has the right to submit a written appeal to OIE within five days of the Notice of Determination being released to the complainants and respondents. If an appeal is filed, OIE then has five days to forward it to the Appeal Authority, who then has 10 days to make a written decision regarding the appeal.