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University of Illinois police knew details about Terrence Shannon Jr. investigation but didn’t share with school officials, records show

Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Chris Sweda

University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman sat before a bevy of reporters on a Friday in December and walked through the timeline that led university officials to suspend Chicago native Terrence Shannon Jr. from the men’s basketball team after he was charged with rape in Kansas.

Shortly after Lawrence police began their investigation in September and continuing throughout the fall, Whitman said the school’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics knew little about the allegations against Shannon. Any information relayed from Lawrence investigators to athletics officials via the University of Illinois Police Department was “verbal, unsubstantiated and vague,” he would later say in a court filing, and “not sufficient to trigger” a student-athlete discipline policy.

University administration waited until Dec. 27 to hand down Shannon’s short-lived suspension, after Whitman said his office first saw the arrest warrant and police reports.

But those documents had been sent to University of Illinois police three months earlier, the Chicago Tribune learned through a Freedom of Information Act request. Illinois officials said campus police did not share those records with the athletics office — essentially delaying the university’s internal misconduct probe — to protect the ongoing criminal investigation.

Shannon, 23, faces one count of rape or an alternative count of misdemeanor sexual battery in a case that stems from a September trip he and two others took to watch the Illini football team play the University of Kansas.

Lawrence police said in an affidavit that a woman, born in 2005, told a detective that Shannon put his hand under her skirt, grabbed her buttocks and penetrated her with his finger while at a crowded bar near Kansas’ campus.

Shannon has denied the allegations. A preliminary hearing in his Douglas County, Kansas, criminal case is scheduled for Feb. 23.

A first-team All-Big Ten guard last season, Shannon was second in the conference in scoring at the time of his suspension with 21.7 points per game. A federal judge on Jan. 19 granted a preliminary injunction returning Shannon to the team.

On Sept. 27, nearly three weeks after Lawrence police began their investigation, a detective there emailed university police seeking help obtaining a search warrant for Shannon’s DNA. In the email, Detective Josh Leitner wrote: “Attached are my narrative reports I have completed on this case as well as a summary of what I would write in the affidavit for search warrant if I were the author.”

By then, records show, the university was aware that Lawrence police wanted to speak with Shannon. At the December news conference, Whitman said the initial information relayed to him through university police was “light on details.”

“We didn’t know at the time whether Terrence was the subject of the inquiry or whether he might have been a witness to some other matter that happened in Lawrence.”

Whitman said he immediately met with Shannon to ask about his trip to Kansas.

“He was very forthcoming with us, detailed his visit,” Whitman said. “But nothing he shared with us triggered any cause for us to institute any discipline or take any action.”

Meanwhile, the university police Detective Sgt. Grant Briggs reviewed the documents Leitner sent on Sept. 27, as well as a video of an interview with Shannon’s accuser.

“I determined the facts supported his request for a complaint and affidavit for a search warrant,” Briggs wrote in a case report.

Two days later, after Briggs obtained a Champaign County judge’s signature on the warrant, he and Ryan Squire, executive senior associate athletics director and chief integrity officer, met Shannon at men’s head coach Brad Underwood’s office. There, Briggs wrote in his report, he swabbed Shannon’s cheeks for DNA. It’s unclear from the records whether Underwood was there.

The emails were first reported by the blog, Champaign Showers.

Robin Kaler, Illinois associate chancellor, told the Tribune in an email that while Squire was asked to help police collect evidence, the search warrant was not given to the athletics office at that time.

“In keeping with UIPD procedures and at the request of the Lawrence Police Department, UIPD did not share specific details or reports about the ongoing investigation for non-law enforcement purposes until authorized to do so,” Kaler wrote. “Doing so could impair an ongoing investigation, especially prior to an arrest.”

A spokesperson for the Lawrence Police Department previously declined to comment, citing the pending court case against Shannon.

Whitman said in court filings that the university’s athletics office “made multiple requests to the LPD, facilitated by the UIPD, to provide more concrete information,” but received nothing.

Records obtained by the Tribune show two such examples. On. Oct. 3, Sgt. Briggs sent a text message to Leitner in Kansas asking to talk. Three weeks later, Briggs emailed Leitner and asked about any case updates.

Leitner responded that same day: “Unfortunately, I don’t have any update for you. I anticipate he either was charged or will be soon.”

Leitner copied an assistant district attorney in Douglas County, Kansas, who replied: “I will be back with both of you on this soon.”

Records show no further emails between the two agencies until early January, when Illinois Deputy Chief Joseph McCullough emailed Lawrence police for any additional reports beyond what his department already had. The documents, he said, were to share with “internal discipline boards.”

By then, Kaler said, Lawrence police had “authorized” their counterparts in Champaign to share a copy of the arrest warrant and a redacted police report with the university’s athletics office.

Shannon would eventually challenge his suspension in federal court. His attorneys argued that university administrators “ignored the fundamentals of due process and the presumption of innocence” by suspending Shannon from the team while his criminal case is pending.

Because the criminal case is expected to extend beyond the college basketball season and the NBA draft — some prognosticators had Shannon as a first-round pick before his arrest — his attorneys sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction to prevent the suspension from causing what they called irreparable harm to Shannon, a fifth-year guard who transferred to Illinois last season after three years at Texas Tech.

“His NBA career will tank,” they said in a court filing, “as will his reputation, the ability to support his family, his ability to play collegiate athletics (and perhaps professional sports), and his presumption of innocence.”

The university defended the decision to suspend Shannon, saying its student-athlete misconduct procedures “allow us to respond swiftly to allegations of misconduct and serious crimes while affording our student-athletes a fair process and waiting for the legal system and university discipline processes to proceed.”

Any potential damage to Shannon’s future, the university said in court filings, “is directly connected to his criminal arrest for rape, not the university’s decisions.”

But in her decision, U.S. District Judge Colleen Lawless said the university’s Division of Intercollegiate Athletics discipline policy used to suspend Shannon lacked safeguards found in a separate student misconduct policy called the Office of Student Conflict Resolution (OSCR).

That policy, the judge wrote, “provides adequate safeguards through detailed notice, levels of review, an actual investigation, disclosure of evidence, witness participation, a defined burden of proof, and a written decision.”

Lawless’ order notes that Illinois could ultimately suspend Shannon under its OSCR policy. The university’s investigation under OSCR began Jan. 5.

Under the university’s OSCR policy, investigations involving allegations of sexual misconduct typically take 40 to 60 business days.

Illinois, currently ranked No. 14 in The Associated Press poll, went 4-2 in Shannon’s absence. The team is 3-1 since his return, the loss coming last week to Northwestern in front of an Evanston crowd that jeered Shannon with chants of “no means no” and “lock him up.”

jbullington@chicagotribune.com