Details have emerged in the arrest of eight students who partied with Michael Phelps the night he was photographed holding a bong at a party in Columbia, South Carolina. And it seems Phelps is the focus of Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott’s reefer madness.
Columbia attorney Dick Harpootlian said Richland County Sheriff’s deputies arrested his client–whom he declined to identify–Saturday in his home after seizing a small amount of marijuana and asking questions about the Olympic gold medalist:
He’s sitting there on Saturday, and 12 cops kick in the door with guns drawn, search his house and find 5, maybe 6, grams of pot. They never asked him, ‘Who sold you the pot?’ … They were asking, ‘Were you at the party with Michael Phelps? Did you see him using marijuana?’ It was all about Michael Phelps.
The other seven people arrested in connection with the festivities at the house on Blossom Street have been questioned about Phelps, says Harpootlian:
All these people have been asked the same questions. It’s all about Michael Phelps.
On Good Morning America this morning, local defense attorney Joseph McCulloch–who is representing an arrestee in the case–characterized the arrests as
a fascination, if not an effort, to destroy a public hero.
One of Harpootlian’s clients had computers and storage drive seized, supposedly to try to find evidence against Phelps, Harpootlian said. Sheriffs refused his request Wednesday to return the items to his client.
A former solicitor (prosecutor) for Richland and Kershaw counties, Harpootlian said in his entire legal career he had
never seen a search warrant executed for simple possession of marijuana.
Sheriff Lott has said he would charge Phelps if there is evidence a crime was committed. Lt. Chris Cowan, sheriff’s department spokesman did the spokesperson thing, saying:
As soon as we’re ready to release information on this case we will and we’re still in the middle of this investigation.
Attorney McCulloch commented:
It seems to me that Richland County has a host of its own crime problems much more serious than a kid featured in a photograph with a bong in his hand.
Under South Carolina law, possession of one ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor that carries a fine up to $200 and 30 days in jail for the first offense, while possession of drug paraphernalia is a $500 fine. Holding a bong in a photo is not "possession of paraphernalia," especially when the bong was offered for sale–by someone other than Phelps–on eBay for $100,000. The person selling the bong is among those arrested.