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Details emerge in assault accusation against Caldwell

J.J. Caldwell (11), shown playing against McNeese State in November, has been suspended from the UNM’s men’s basketball team after being accused of assault. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Last July, Carolyn and Joe Montoya sent an email to the University of New Mexico Athletics Department with a letter from their daughter detailing an incident on June 16 in which she said her boyfriend at the time – men’s basketball point guard J.J. Caldwell – pushed her during a fight, causing her to fall down and hit her head against the bathtub.

The blow, she said, resulted in a concussion. She also said he choked her until she was unconscious.

In response, the family members received a phone call from the department and were told that Caldwell would get some kind of help, according to their lawyer Kathy Love.

But it’s unclear what came of that.

While the Journal has confirmed UNM received the letter, the university, including Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez, says federal student privacy laws prohibit them from commenting specifically on what, if anything, happened as a result of that communication with the family.

UNM does have counseling services available to student athletes, but employees are not allowed to comment on whether athletes attend.

The letter did not request that Caldwell, who formerly played at Texas A&M, be kicked off the team or banned from campus, only that UNM do its part to “look further into the character of this individual, and help him get some help.”

Love recently provided the Journal with a copy of the woman’s letter, which also stated, “The physical abuse was traumatizing, but the humiliation and emotional abuse I have endured will have life-long effects. This individual needs help, which he won’t hear it from me. But coming from someone who genuinely cares about this person I hope he gets that help so he can be the person he needs to be.”

Caldwell, through his attorney, denies the charges.

“We absolutely deny all the allegations and expect to prove them false if UNM ever gives J.J. a hearing,” attorney Justine Fox-Young told the Journal.

The 21-year-old woman had not reported the incident to police at the time of the letter, but did so about five months later, on Dec. 3, as Caldwell was nearing completion of his first semester of classes at UNM and had already started 12 games for the team.

Two weeks later, she filed another report with the Albuquerque Police Department about a separate incident she said occurred Dec. 14, during which she alleges Caldwell again struck and choked her.

Caldwell, now 23, was suspended from the team after that report, which was made public at that time.

In the Dec. 3 police report, which the Journal recently obtained, the woman said she and Caldwell were still dating in June and went out drinking one night, but then got separated from one another. She said a friend gave her a ride to the home she shared with Caldwell.

When she got home, Caldwell – whom she calls Joseph – was already there and very upset. She said he pushed her into the bathroom while they were arguing and then grabbed both her arms and pushed her backwards toward the bathtub.

“(She) said she lost her footing and fell towards the ground, striking her head on the tub before impact,” the officer wrote in the report. “(She) said she stood back up and attempted to walk out of the bathroom when Joseph approached her once more. … (She) said Joseph stood directly in front of her once more and grabbed her neck with both of his hands. (She) said Joseph squeezed his hands on her neck and throat area until she lost consciousness.”

The case was forwarded to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office for review, as was the Dec. 16 report the woman filed regarding the incident she said occurred on Dec. 14. By that time they had ended their relationship.

According to the Dec. 16 report, she told police the two got in an argument at the Posh Nightclub downtown. She said she went back to Caldwell’s apartment after the argument downtown and the two again got in a fight at Caldwell’s apartment, during which she says he again put his hands on her arms and hit her.

Caldwell has not been charged in either incident, but the latter case led to his indefinite suspension from the Lobo basketball team – a suspension now eight games and counting – and an emergency ban from campus. That ban was lifted by UNM Dean of Students Nasha Torrez last week.

“After considering the allegations, UNM properly reinstated J.J. as a student,” Fox-Young, co-counsel with Paul Kennedy in representing Caldwell, told the Journal on Wednesday. “We’re pleased that they reached the right determination, and J.J. looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name and get back on the basketball court.”

There remains an active investigation by UNM’s Office of Equal Opportunity into any possible Title IX violations. It is unclear if the outcome of that investigation will affect Nuñez’s decision on whether to reinstate Caldwell to the team.

And both police reports were sent to the 12th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Alamogordo for a review of possible criminal charges, potentially either misdemeanor or felony.

“At least one of the cases involves allegations of strangulation which if proven would be a felony,” DA John Sugg wrote in an email.

The cases were sent out of 2nd Judicial District Attorney Raúl Torrez’s office because he is married to Nasha Torrez, the dean of students at UNM. She is named as one of several defendants in a suit filed by Caldwell alleging the school has violated his right to due process.

The suit alleges that UNM unlawfully banned Caldwell from campus, evicted him from his residence, disallowed him from playing basketball and banned him from registering for spring courses “based on unsubstantiated allegations.”

Sugg said he doesn’t know how long it will take for him to make a determination and he is still in the process of gathering statements that were made during other hearings and as part of the UNM investigation.

“Obviously we’re going to try to get a decision soon, but we’re not going to rush it at this point,” Sugg said.

On Saturday, the day after UNM announced Caldwell would be allowed back on campus, the woman’s parents sent a statement to the Journal. Carolyn and Joe Montoya stressed that neither they nor their daughter want to publicly embarrass Caldwell or the basketball team and they are proud, life-long Lobo fans.

“Until J.J. Caldwell is held accountable for his actions and gets help for his violent behavior, he is not an appropriate representative of Lobos basketball or worthy of the adulation and responsibility that come with being a Lobo,” they wrote.

Asked Wednesday about Caldwell’s potential return to the team, UNM head coach Paul Weir said again it is a matter he cannot control.

“Honestly it’s not something I put a ton of time thinking about right now,” Weir said. “It’s out of my control. I’m really just coaching the team.”

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