A South Carolina sheriff said Monday he was not going to charge swimmer Michael Phelps after a photo of the 14-time gold medalist showed him smoking from a marijuana pipe.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said during a news conference
that he didn't have enough physical evidence to charge the swimmer,
but he defended his investigation.
"Michael Phelps is truly an American hero ... but even with his
star status, he is still obligated to obey the laws of our state,"
The photo showed Phelps smoking from a marijuana pipe at a party
in November when he visited the University of South Carolina. Lott
said he seized the marijuana pipe, known as a bong, that was in the
photo but couldn't prove Phelps had smoked from it.
"We had a photo and him saying he was sorry for inappropriate
behavior. He never said, 'I smoked marijuana.' We didn't have
physical evidence," Lott said.
Phelps has called his judgment bad and said he would learn from
USA Swimming suspended Phelps for three months in the wake of
the photo, and Kellogg Co. said it would not renew its endorsement
deal with him.
The photo surfaced in a British newspaper, News of the World, on
Feb. 1. The swimmer, who won a record eight gold medals at the
Beijing Games, did not dispute its authenticity.
News of the World said the picture was taken during a party
while Phelps was visiting the university. During that trip, he
attended one of the school's football games and received a big
ovation when introduced to the crowd.
The sheriff's office said seven people arrested during the
investigation would still face a simple possession of marijuana
charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail or a
$575 fine. Another person was arrested for driving under
The sheriff's office wouldn't identify those charged but an
attorney for three of them said they should be handled just like
any other marijuana possession charge. Attorney Dick Harpootlian
said he expects his clients to either have the charge dismissed or
for them to get a conditional discharge, which allows an offender
to avoid punishment as long as they comply with certain conditions
for six months and stay out of trouble.
The party occurred nearly three months after the Olympics while
Phelps was taking a break from training, and his actions should
have no impact on the eight golds he won at Beijing. He has never
tested positive for banned substances.
This isn't the first embarrassing episode for Phelps after an
Olympic triumph. In 2004, a few months removed from winning six
gold and two bronze medals in Athens, the swimmer was arrested on a
drunken driving charge at age 19. He pleaded guilty and apologized
for the mistake.