Editor's note: Carlton Bragg has been dismissed from the men's basketball team, according to a statement from Paul Weir released late Sunday night.
Everything was going right for the University of New Mexico men's basketball team — until it wasn't.
Unfortunately for head coach Paul Weir and the UNM Athletics Department, one of the best seasons in recent memory has been largely overshadowed by a litany of recent criminal investigations. The team’s sterling 6-1 record since Dec. 14 and overall 15-3 season has been starkly juxtaposed against a backdrop of criminal sexual penetration and battery allegations, a DWI arrest and a lawsuit filed by a player against the school.
Senior forward Carlton Bragg Jr. and junior point guard JJ Caldwell were suspended from all team activities just hours prior to the Lobos’ home tilt against Houston Baptist University on Dec. 22. The University has been keeping details of the process and its impetus closely guarded since announcing the suspensions, but revelations have continued to leak at halting intervals and shed further light on the legal travails of Weir’s men.
"Carlton Bragg and JJ Caldwell will not participate in today's game versus Houston Baptist," read a statement from UNM released prior to the matchup, beginning a saga that has yet — at least in Caldwell’s case — to give any impression of ending. "They are being withheld from competition and team activity until further notice. The Athletic(s) Department has received information that requires further review. In the meantime, there will be no additional comments from anyone at UNM until that process is complete."
Bragg’s troubles emerge, become muddled, magnify further
Though Bragg was reinstated on Jan. 3 after serving a three-game suspension while the University investigated an alleged sexual assault, his legal troubles have continued to compound. Nine days after rejoining the team, Bragg was arrested in the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 12 on suspicion of aggravated DWI and possession of marijuana under one ounce.
He was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center — and the team — later that day.
According to a police report obtained by the Daily Lobo, the 24-year-old transfer student was pulled over at a sobriety checkpoint near the intersection of Broadway Boulevard and Coal Avenue just after 1 a.m. when an Albuquerque Police Department (APD) officer noted "bloodshot, watery eyes" and an odor of alcohol emanating from Bragg’s facial area.
Bragg admitted to drinking two glasses of wine between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. earlier in the night and performed poorly on field sobriety tests, according to the report. The arresting officer noted that Bragg was "very irate with officers once arrested" and refused to consent to submitting a breath sample, triggering the state’s implied consent law. This automatically elevated the charge to an aggravated DWI.
The arrest came a handful of hours after Bragg contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds in UNM’s 84-78 victory over Air Force, and the Athletics Department released a brief statement the next day acknowledging the arrest but declining to comment further.
"The UNM Athletic(s) Department has been notified that there was an incident regarding senior Carlton Bragg Jr. early this morning," the release said. "The department is aware of the situation (and) is looking into it further. At this time, there will be no additional comments from anyone at UNM."
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In April of 2018, legislation signed into law by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller decriminalized the possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia. The offense is now a civil matter that carries a fine of $25 and no jail time.
The DWI charge proved fatal to his Lobo career, as Weir's statement dismissing him from the team followed later on Sunday evening. A conviction for a first aggravated DWI offense carries with it a minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail and a maximum of up to 90 days, among other mandatory penalties.
Criminal sexual penetration allegations forwarded to DA
According to a separate police report APD provided to the Daily Lobo, Bragg was allegedly involved in another, more serious incident months before his DWI arrest. The report states that on Nov. 5, a 20-year-old female went to the Albuquerque Family Advocacy Center to report an "attempted criminal sexual penetration." Additionally, the victim said that on Aug. 11, Bragg "forcefully and without her consent tried to unbutton her pants multiple times."
According to a University statement, Bragg’s suspension came after UNM became aware of information that "required review by appropriate University personnel." The Athletics Department declined to comment further, citing the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act in not disclosing further information.
The victim, according to the police report, said "no" multiple times during the incident with Bragg and started recording the interaction on her cell phone out of fear of being raped. Among the 27 audio files reviewed by a detective with the APD Sex Crimes Unit, several detailed the victim repeatedly saying "stop," and a video captured her saying "you literally said you were drunk and this wasn’t going to happen again."
The detective sent the report to the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office for review and possible prosecution. The case was consequently referred to the 12th Judicial District for consideration to "shield the case from unnecessary litigation not relevant to the criminal case," as reported by the Albuquerque Journal.
Caldwell sues the school
Meanwhile, the curious case of point guard JJ Caldwell has yet to be resolved. The Houston, TX native remains withheld from all team activities amid allegations of battery and a subsequent civil lawsuit filed against the University on his behalf.
The complaint — filed in U.S. District Court 11 days after UNM barred Caldwell from the basketball team — alleges he was denied due process rights granted by the 14th Amendment. Caldwell’s attorneys, Paul Kennedy and Justine Fox-Young, also contend UNM "breached its obligations" to him by allegedly banning him from campus, evicting him from his apartment at Lobo Village and not allowing him to register for spring classes outside of one he had already registered for at Johnson Gym.
The University of New Mexico Board of Regents, Dean of Students Nasha Torrez and the Lobo Development Corporation — a real estate investment arm of the University that has financial ties to Lobo Village — are named as defendants in the complaint.
Both Bragg and Caldwell are transfers from Power-5 conference schools. Bragg (Kansas and Arizona State) and Caldwell (Texas A&M) left their respective programs in the wake of criminal charges. Bragg’s tenure at Kansas ended after a suspension in January of 2017 following a charge for criminal possession of drug paraphernalia. Shortly thereafter, the former McDonald’s high school All-American transferred to Arizona State. He never suited up for the Sun Devils, however, after violating an "unspecified team rule" and eventually transferring to UNM prior to the 2018-2019 season.
Caldwell, meanwhile, was removed from the Texas A&M program for an unspecified violation of team policy, per a team statement released after Caldwell — formerly an ESPN top-100 recruit — and another teammate were arrested on misdemeanor drug charges in early 2018.
Joe Rull contributed research to this story.
Andrew Gunn is the sports editor and a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @agunnwrites