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Attorneys sue UNM on behalf of Lobo player Caldwell

Lobo guard J.J. Caldwell reacts after a big play in the Don Haskins Center in El Paso during a game vs. UTEP in November. (Ivan Pierre Aguirre for the Journal)

While the University of New Mexico remains tight-lipped about details surrounding the ongoing indefinite suspensions of two starting Lobo basketball players, one of them is applying a full-court press on the university to let him back on the court immediately.

The attorneys for suspended junior point guard J.J. Caldwell on Thursday filed suit in U.S. District Court, seeking an immediate injunction to let Caldwell return to the team claiming UNM has violated his rights under the 14th Amendment, dealing with violation of due process.

“This case arises out of the University of New Mexico’s unlawful action banning Joseph Caldwell from the University campus, evicting him from his residence, disallowing him from playing basketball for the University and banning him from registering for courses for the 2020 Spring Semester,” the lawsuit states, adding that the suspension is “based on unsubstantiated allegations” and that UNM hasn’t followed its own process to determine whether a student Code of Conduct violation has occurred.

The suit, filed by attorneys Paul Kennedy and Justine Fox-Young, names as defendants the UNM Board of Regents, UNM Dean of Students Nasha Torrez and the Lobo Development Corporation, which has a stake in the Lobo Village apartments that allegedly have evicted Caldwell.

After starting the first 13 games this season, Caldwell and fellow starter Carlton Bragg Jr. have missed the past three, each on indefinite suspension. The two players’ matters are unrelated, other than both are subjects of potential criminal cases that were referred to and are now being reviewed by the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Both cases, the DA’s Office on Thursday said, were still “under review” to determine if prosecutors deemed there to be sufficient evidence to seek criminal charges.

Neither player has been charged with a criminal offense, and UNM has not said how long either will be suspended or what, exactly, would have to change for either to return to the court since neither has been charged with an offense. UNM athletic director Eddie Nuñez has confirmed both players are being held out of all team activities, but UNM has not said Caldwell was banned from campus or evicted.

Bragg, meanwhile, has posted pictures on social media of himself working out at UNM facilities, though he isn’t allowed to be there while team functions are taking place.
The Journal reported last week Caldwell’s case is linked to a police report filed by an ex-girlfriend alleging the Houston native hit her with an open hand, grabbed her by the arms and put his hands around her throat during an incident on Dec. 16.

Kennedy told the Journal last week Caldwell is innocent and Caldwell has told UNM the same, the complaint states.

UNM said it has not yet read Caldwell’s complaint.

According to the complaint, Caldwell received by email a message on Dec. 19 from the Dean of Students Office “banning him from campus” and adding that he couldn’t contact anyone in the office until it reopened after the holidays. It added his case was being reviewed by UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity office.

Nasha Torrez, the Dean of Students, is the wife of Raul Torrez, the Second Judicial District Attorney, whose office is reviewing Caldwell’s case for potential criminal charges.

The Journal asked both UNM and a District Attorney’s spokesman if either felt there was a potential conflict of interest with both Torrezes handling the Caldwell matter. Neither responded by press time.

The complaint also states a continued suspension without justification “will likely destroy any prospects of playing professional basketball in the future and will severely damage his reputation.”

Caldwell’s complaint goes on to site findings in the Department of Justice’s recent investigation into UNM and how it was not properly handling Title IX complaints and that UNM had “improper policies and procedures, inadequate training and otherwise finding (UNM) had failed” to resolved Title IX matters.

The court filing asks that Caldwell’s suspension be lifted, that he be allowed to appeal and/or state his side of the story related to the allegations against him, be allowed back into his apartment at Lobo Village and also seeks unspecified damages the court deems appropriate.

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