Police investigating marijuana use by Olympic swimming gold medalist Michael Phelps have filed drug charges against a number of people as they try to build a case against Phelps, the Associated Press reported Feb. 12.
Phelps was photographed apparently smoking from a bong at a party near the University of South Carolina last November, and Richland County police launched an investigation after the picture was published. Among those arrested were two former renters at the house where the party took place, who were charged with marijuana possession after a raid on their new residence.
“After they arrested him, they didn’t ask him, ’Where did you get the marijuana?’ or ’Who sold it to you?’” said Dick Harpootlian, a lawyer for one of the men arrested. “Almost all the questions they asked him were about Michael Phelps.”
“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,” added fellow attorney Joseph McCullouch.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, who has made fighting drug crime a priority during his tenure, said after the photo was published that his office would pursue charges against Phelps, saying the swimmer’s fame should not insulate him from punishment.
“I find it amazing the justification is they don’t want to treat him any differently just because he is a celebrity, and he is being treated far differently than any other Joe Blow who might have smoked marijuana four or five months ago,” said Harpootlian.
The sheriff’s department declined to respond to the lawyers’ comments.