Richland County Sheriff LEON LOTT:
“I had nothing to do with Michael Phelps coming to Columbia and making a bad decision. He did that. His bad decision and the highly published photo placed me and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in a no win situation. Ignore it and be criticized or address it and be criticized. I chose to do what was right. While to some it may not have been the most popular decision, it was and is the right decision because of the law and the negative impact it could have on our children in Richland County.
Michael Phelps is truly an American sports hero. I, along with the rest of America, cheered his victories and felt pride when he stood on the podium to receive his medals.
Even with his star status he is still obligated to obey the laws of our state. He is not immune from his responsibilities to do what is right. He is also human and can make a mistake.
I took an obligation in my oath as Sheriff to enforce the law equally and fairly without any personal bias or prejudice.
With Michael Phelps I had to remove his medals, his hero status, and look at him as any other person.
I felt it was important that he be treated fairly, equally and that a message be conveyed that illegal drug use is illegal by anyone.
Our investigation focused on the possession, use and distribution of illegal drugs in Richland County. The incident in November only initiated our investigation, which resulted in the arrests of adults who were at the time of their arrests in possession of illegal drugs. Contrary to some, this was not a special investigation or one that impacted our resources on other crimes. This was in fact a short investigation and simple investigation conducted by narcotics investigators whose sole responsibility is to investigate drug violations. The time and resources were quite minimal when compared to other drug investigations. In the time this investigation was being conducted we solved a murder, ATM robberies and numerous other crimes.
The house of the November party had previously been the subject of a drug case and other crimes. The related house in Irmo had also been the subject of a previous drug case. Both locations were the source of problems in our community.
The charges of those arrested in this investigation will be handled as we do in other similar type arrests.
As with any cop, my responsibility is to enforce the law, not to create it or ignore it. Marijuana in the state of South Carolina is illegal and I am obligated to enforce the law again equally, fairly and without personal bias. I would have been remiss in my duty as Sheriff if I would have ignored the November incident and subsequent drug violations we discovered during our investigation.
By ignoring the November incident, I would have been sending a message of tolerance and condoning the use of illegal drugs. I could not do that, nor have I ever done that. I would be a hypocrite in view of our extensive Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program that I have been active in for many years. How can we teach kids through DARE not to do drugs, and then look the other way if it is an important person?
Our message has to be loud, clear, and consistent, don’t do drugs.
I have always advocated that we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem. We must do it through enforcement and education such as the DARE program utilizes.
Having thoroughly investigated this matter, we do not believe we have enough evidence to prosecute anyone that was present at the November party.
Michael Phelps and I agree that something positive needs to come from this incident and that is a message of not using drugs.
He can speak on this issue from his perspective.
My perspective is that the law pertains to everyone and our drug laws are to be enforced.
My hope again is that we all take this incident and make something positive from it. Parents please take this opportunity to talk with your children about illegal drug use. During my 34 years in law enforcement I have seen lives and communities destroyed due to drugs. We all must work together to protect our children and our communities. Now is the time to educate our young people, the decisions they make today can impact them for the rest of their lives.”