Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympic Games

Michael Phelps at the 2008 Olympic Games

On Sunday, February 1, 2009, Michael Phelps admitted to “regrettable” behavior concerning the release of photos that showed the Olympian apparently smoking marijuana. These photos were released by the British tabloid News of the World and came from a cellphone video that was allegedly taken at a November 2008 party at the University of South Carolina.

“I engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” the record-breaking athlete said in a statement issued last week. This comes nearly four years after Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence in Salisbury, Maryland. In that instance, Phelps pleaded guilty and received eighteen months probation.

Phelps has been banned for three months by USA Swimming; the federation stated, “This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero.” Furthermore, cereal and snack-maker Kellogg Co. reported it will not renew its contract with Phelps following the release of the photos.

Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, South Carolina maintains that charges will be filed against the Olympic swimmer if the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation reveals any illegal activity. Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor in South Carolina, punishable by up to 30 days in jail or a $570 fine, plus court costs. Lott said in a statement, “If someone breaks the law in Richland County, we have an obligation as law enforcement to investigate and to bring charges.” Given the video and partial confession, it is likely that South Carolina could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance was actually marijuana. According to Lott, “This one might be a lot easier since we have photographs of someone using drugs and a partial confession. It’s a relatively easy case once we can determine where the crime occurred.” However, since Phelps has actually admitted to the behavior it is likely he would plead guilty if charged. It seems as though the Richland County Sheriff’s Department is making an effort to treat Phelps in the same manner as anyone else, but the truth is, he is not just anyone else . . . he is a national hero.

This setback could affect his plans to compete in the London Olympics in 2012. Has the Olympian perhaps already been punished enough by the negative publicity? Are criminal charges necessary, and if criminal charges were not brought, would it seriously undermine the whole legal system? Doubtful.

Ironically enough, the gold winner is one of twelve Olympic athletes that have pledged to “My Victory,” an initiative launched in 2008 by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to keep athletes clean of illegal drug use.

— Jenny Worthy

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7 Responses to Would Charging Michael Phelps Be a "Victory" for Law Enforcement?

  1. Rachel says:

    Did it ever occur to you that the local law enforcement is OBLIGATED to speak on the issue since the media has been having such a field day with the story?

    The news article says the sheriff will file charges “if the investigation determines they are warranted.” If the sheriff said, “We aren’t going to waste our time with this and go investigate bigger and more important crime,” the media would have had a cow.

    You are so quick to jump to conclusions and insulting generalizations that you miss all the faults in your logic.

  2. mcgowan says:

    hey sheriff. i got donuts for u

  3. mcgowan says:

    the retarded dumb sheriff should b put in jail for wasting our tax money investigating weed. thats y cops r so stupid. do the normal thing and let it go then do ur job(eat donuts and drink coffee for free)

  4. hb says:

    Anyone naive enough to believe that the sheriff is just doing his job is well…just plain stupid. If the resources are so limited it begs credulity why paying attention to a bunch of stoned college kids takes precedence over, gee I don’t know, stuff like ROBBERY, ASSAULT, ATTEMPTED MURDER…you know…the minor stuff cops pay attention to when they’re not hot on the heals of those sinister college bong lovers.

    One has to wonder how many other REAL drug related crimes are going uninvestigated now that ol’ Boss Hog has his boy Phelps in his sights.

    What a complete ultramaroon!

  5. Rachel says:

    … and Phelps. Admittedly, he is quite the idiot.

  6. Rachel says:

    Once again, I feel compelled to speak up against hb’s bombastic comments…

    First of all, the frat houses at USC were conveniently relocated to a single complex several years ago. USCPD and Columbia police often patrol the complex and underage drinking and drug abuse have decreased markedly as a result.

    Secondly, it is ABSURD to compare Lott to Nifong. Most basically, one is a sheriff with investigatory responsibilities, and the other is a DA with prosecution responsibilities. More importantly, Nifong violated both the law and ethical standards. Lott, at least in regards to this case, has done neither.

    Third, police officers across the country routinely decide not to pursue simple possession charges in favor of PTI, probation, etc. There is no “southern style justice” going on here, but rather the judicious allocation of limited police resources, prison space, and law enforcement time.

    Frankly, hb, the only idiot here is you.

  7. hb says:

    If the idiot sheriff REALLY wanted to send a signal by enforcing the law, all he’d need do is to simply hang around the public roads adjacent to the college dorms and frat houses where Phelps did his bong hits. Somehow I doubt that’s going to happen.

    This guy has simply taken his cues of law enforcement straight from the “No, I’d never seek any publicity at all by abusing my official powers” Mike Nifong school of Southern Style justice.

    Looks like Boss Hog and Roscoe still run the show in the south.

    It would be interesting to see the number of arrests this sheriff has made on identical charges in recent months or years and of similar suspects as Phelps. Most interesting.

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