Lott: Not enough evidence to prosecute Phelps - wistv.com - Columbia, South Carolina |

Lott: Not enough evidence to prosecute Phelps

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - During a news conference Monday afternoon, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said there is not enough evidence to prosecute anyone at the November party where Olympic champion Michael Phelps was pictured smoking marijuana from a bong.

Monday's news conference puts an end to speculation if Phelps would be charged with smoking marijuana in Richland County.

Lott addressed criticism from others who have claimed that he has put too much emphasis on the case. He said that the narcotics department had been investigating it and not the entire sheriff's department. He added that this was not a special investigation and that it did not impact any other crimes being investigated.

Lott said he would have been a "hypocrite" if he had not chosen to look into the matter. "We had no choice," Lott said.

"By ignoring the November incident, I would have been sending a message of tolerance and condoning the use of illegal drugs," Lott said.

Lott called the incident a "no-win" situation for the sheriff's department.

"If I had ignored it, people on the other side would have asked why I had ignored it. These were drug violations. They were against the law. You had to do something," Lott said.

Lott says he found out about the photo, and the claim that it was taken in Columbia, on Super Bowl Sunday.

The following day, he told narcotics officers to start looking into the case.

Officials say the house where Phelps was pictured smoking marijuana along with a house in Irmo had been previously targeted in a drug investigation.

Lott said he and Michael Phelps agree that something positive must come of this.

"I hope he's learned from this," Lott said of Phelps. Lott hopes Phelps will use this matter to teach kids to the do the right thing.

As for Phelps, he released a statement after the news conference expressing his regret over the whole incident:

"I'm glad this matter is put to rest. But there are also some important lessons that I've learned. For me, it's all about recognizing that I used bad judgment and it's a mistake I won't make again. For young people especially - be careful about the decisions you make. One bad decision can really hurt you and the people you care about. I really appreciate the support my family and fans have shown me and now, I will move forward and dive back into the pool, having put this whole thing behind me."

The eight people previously arrested in connection with the case will still have charges against them because they were in possession of drugs when they were arrested according to Lott.

The infamous picture was sold to a British tabloid for $100,000 according to Lott and the bong itself is in deputies' hands as evidence.

Some complaints about the way the sheriff handled the case came from attorneys for two of the seven people charged.

One, former solicitor Dick Harpootlian, claiming a dozen deputies had surrounded the lake house, going in with guns drawn, then grilling the young people arrested there about Phelps.

Lott says there were fewer deputies involved and nothing unusual about them unholstering their weapons, given the uncertain circumstances of any drug raid.

One question still to be answered: whether this controversy comes back to haunt Lott when he runs for re-election.

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Reported by Jack Kuenzie

Posted by Jeremy Turnage

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