'Rush to judgment:' Why suspended basketball star Terrence Shannon Jr. is taking the University of Illinois to court

PISCATAWAY, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 2: Terrence Shannon Jr. #0 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in action against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during a game at Jersey Mikes Arena on December 2, 2023 in Piscataway, New Jersey. Illinois defeated Rutgers 76-58. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Content warning: This story contains depictions of alleged sexual assault.

Suspended Illinois men’s basketball star Terrence Shannon Jr. is taking the university to court in a bid to play for the Illini again this season.

Attorneys representing Shannon filed a lawsuit Monday in Champaign County court seeking a temporary restraining order that would require Illinois to either immediately reinstate him to the basketball team or reimburse him for the damages caused by his suspension.

Illinois indefinitely suspended Shannon on Dec. 28 after authorities in Lawrence, Kansas, arrested the All-America candidate and charged him with rape. Shannon’s attorneys contend that he is innocent, that the charges against him are “suspect” and that Illinois has denied him a fair process by suspending him before the resolution of his criminal case.

"Respectfully, this was a rush to judgment by the University,” Shannon’s four attorneys said in a joint statement to Yahoo Sports. “The protocol that they implemented to summarily suspend our client ignored the fundamentals of due process and the presumption of innocence. Our team remains hopeful that justice will ultimately be served.”

Shannon’s attorneys provided Yahoo Sports with several hundred pages of documents used as evidence in their lawsuit. Among those is a probable cause affidavit filed by the Lawrence police specifying the allegations against Shannon, a letter from a witness defending him and police reports detailing what phone records and surveillance video revealed.

The alleged incident occurred between midnight and 1 a.m. at a crowded Lawrence bar the night of the Sept. 8 Illinois vs. Kansas football game. Illinois graduate assistant Dyshawn Hobson drove Shannon and teammate Justin Harmon from Champaign to Lawrence that day so they could attend the game.

The alleged victim told police that she and her friend were about to leave the basement of the bar because they were hot and uncomfortable, according to the probable cause affidavit. It was then that she noticed a man near the door whom she found attractive and who waved for her to come over.

When she got close enough to him, she told police the man grabbed her by the buttocks to pull her toward him. The man then allegedly sexually assaulted her, groping her under her skirt and underwear and inserting a finger into her vagina before she pushed through the crowd to get away from him.

Asked by police if there was anything she did or said that might have led the man to believe she was OK being touched in that way, the alleged victim, according to the probable cause affidavit, said there was not. She allegedly told police that she did not speak with the man, nor did she have any previous interactions with him.

The alleged victim reported the incident to police the following afternoon and visited a Lawrence hospital for a sexual assault examination. While the man did not give her his name, the alleged victim told police that she was able to identify him as the 6-foot-6 Shannon via social media.

The contents of the alleged victim’s phone corroborated elements of her story. Police found that she was in the area of the Lawrence bar in question from midnight until nearly 1 a.m. and that after she returned home, she conducted numerous internet searches related to the Kansas and Illinois football and men’s basketball teams. At 12:47 p.m., she allegedly searched the name “Terrence Shannon Jr.,” bringing up an image featuring his dreadlocks dyed different colors.

In Shannon’s complaint, his attorneys highlight the dearth of other evidence. “The alleged incident occurred in a very public bar,” they note, yet police have yet to uncover any witnesses. Surveillance footage reviewed by police also allegedly doesn’t confirm that a rape took place, nor does it show Shannon and the alleged victim together.

Hobson, the Illinois graduate assistant who was alongside Shannon that night, gave a statement to the Illini star’s attorneys. Although Hobson chaperoned Shannon and Harmon the whole night at the request of Illinois' assistant coaches, he says he didn’t witness any worrisome behavior.

“I am familiar with the alleged charges against [Shannon,] and I did not see any such thing occur at all,” Hobson wrote. “Nothing remotely close. And based on what I know about [Shannon], it would be completely out of character for him to ever do something like that.”

Illinois learned in September that Shannon was the subject of a police investigation, but athletic director Josh Whitman has said it wasn’t clear to him back then how serious the charges could be. When Whitman spoke to police in September, he recalled being told that the allegation against Shannon was “some inappropriate touching.”

The lack of documentation or formal allegations led Illinois administrators to decide that any sort of suspension or change in Shannon’s status was premature. Illinois kept playing and promoting him as he averaged 21.7 points per game, helped the Illini climb to No. 11 in the AP Top 25 and blossomed into a potential first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft.

It wasn’t until an arrest warrant arrived nearly two weeks ago that Illinois suspended Shannon and initiated its student-athlete misconduct process. That put Shannon’s fate in the hands of a three-person university conduct panel, whose job was to decide whether the basketball star should remain suspended while the legal process played out.

Illinois has not publicly revealed what the conduct panel decided, but a Jan. 3 letter provided by Shannon’s attorneys to Yahoo Sports leaves little doubt. The letter, addressed to Shannon from Illinois associate athletic director and chief integrity officer Ryan Squire, said the three-person panel met earlier that day and determined that his suspension would remain in place until the resolution of his legal case.

That seemingly ends Shannon’s college career because a potential trial wouldn’t begin until after the 2023-24 season.

Shannon’s attorneys tore into that decision in their complaint, pointing out that their client wasn’t allowed to attend any hearing, received no record of the proceedings and never even learned the identity of who was deciding his fate. The whole process, Shannon’s attorneys said, was “fatally flawed.”

Asked to respond to the allegations in Shannon’s lawsuit, Illinois associate chancellor Robin Kaler released a statement to Yahoo Sports defending the university’s student-athlete disciplinary methods. Kaler said the process allows Illinois “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.”

The Shannon saga has drawn national attention because of his individual accomplishments and Illinois’ stature. Opposing coaches were touting the Illini as a Final Four contender before Shannon’s suspension, and the Illini have lost only at top-ranked Purdue in his absence.

Shannon’s first preliminary hearing in Douglas County, Kansas, is scheduled for Jan. 18. His attorneys are hoping it won’t take that long for a judge to rule on his bid to compel Illinois to lift his suspension from the school’s men’s basketball program.

Attorney Mark Goldenberg expects a Champaign County judge to give a date and time for the hearing on Tuesday.

“Best guess,” Goldenberg wrote, “is [Tuesday] or Wednesday.”

“Hopefully asap,” his colleague Mark Sutter added.