The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets Surreal

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Earlier this week, Jacob Sullum noted that the Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Department went out and arrested eight people on marijuana charges allegedly associated with the now-famous bong photo of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps.

Attorneys for two of those eight are now speaking out about how they were arrested.

“He’s sitting there on Saturday, and 12 cops kick in the door with guns drawn, search the house, and find 5, maybe 6 grams of pot,” Harpootlian said about his client, who was arrested in the first raid at the Wells Point Drive home near Ballentine.

“They never asked him, ‘Who sold you the pot?’” Harpootlian continued. “They were asking, ‘Were you at the party with Michael Phelps? Did you see him using marijuana?’ It was all about Michael Phelps.”

The charges resulted from Saturday’s raids and are not connected to the November party that Phelps attended.

Harpootlian, the former top prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties, and McCulloch contend Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott is conducting an overzealous investigation of their clients to try to get evidence against Phelps.

“The sheriff’s department is deploying resources they are normally reserving for major drug dealers and major criminals,” said McCulloch, also a former prosecutor…

Harpootlian said his client, whom he noted is on leave from USC, is “scared” because of the enormous publicity surrounding Phelps.

“He’s being treated more harshly than any kid anywhere in the country,” Harpootlian said. “The only reefer madness is being done at the sheriff’s department.”

According to Harpootlian and McCulloch, police seized four laptop computers, a desktop computer, a computer storage drive and a cell phone, mostly to search for incriminating photos of Phelps.

I guess they can at least be thankful Sheriff Leon Lott didn’t send his tank.

Another glorious moment in America’s drug war.

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60 Responses to “The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets Surreal”

  1. #1 |  Aresen | 

    Michael Phelps is welcome to come to Canada and swim for us.

  2. #2 |  bob42 | 

    It sounds like Sheriff Phelps suffers from a (thankfully) rare, but untreatable psychological disorder: “Megalo-Joe” Arpaio envy.

    If the local prosecutor doesn’t play along, perhaps Mary Beth Buchanan would.

  3. #3 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    Deputies obtained a search warrant for the Wells Point Drive home after observing a large party there Jan. 10 and seizing a bag of marijuana, according to the search warrant affidavit obtained by The State.

    On Feb. 6, investigators seized trash set outside the home and found the “tobacco filler portion of four cigars,” according to the affidavit.

    Sgt. M.A. Poole in his affidavit said it is “common practice” of marijuana users to strip the tobacco out of cigars and use the binder and outer wrappers for marijuana.

    So they took someone’s stash at a party last month, found some tobacco in their garbage can last Friday and kicked the door open on Saturday morning. Somehow, the judge was inspired to sign the search warrant based on that. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, being a daily lurker on this site.

  4. #4 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Christ. It is time for someone to take a stand. I wish it could be Michael Phelps, but he does have alot of endorsement income to think about. I really don’t see what the big deal about smoking some marijuana is. I don’t see how it is worse, from a societal stand point, than me sitting down with a scotch to watch a movie from Netflix. If anything I think Michael Phelps arrest for drunk driving a few years ago was a bigger deal, but it got nowhere near this level of attention.

    This is just blazingly stupid.

  5. #5 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Oh and I speak as a father of a young (11 years old) competitive swimmer. My son and I are the “target demographic” here.

  6. #6 |  Gonzo | 

    Verdon: Watch out for SWAT.

  7. #7 |  Aresen | 

    Steve Verdon

    I would be very concerned about being in the “target” demographic for a Sherriff with a tank. ;)

  8. #8 |  Aresen | 


    Sheriff PHELPS?

  9. #9 |  MikeL | 

    Phelps really should just move to another country, then start winning gold medals for them. Then ask the public of that nation to politely thank the sheriff for his help. If his own countrymen are going to be a complete dick to him after all he’s done, then they just don’t deserve him. France, Canada, the Netherlands – all would be pleased to have him.

  10. #10 |  dsmallwood | 

    i bet they are gunning for Phelp’s dog too

  11. #11 |  Mike H | 

    While watching “Easy Rider” last night, something occured to me – the two bikers (plus Jack Nicholson) have anly one run-in with the cops during the whole movie. The bulk of their suffering is at the hands of the closeminded locals.

    It’s the opposite nowadays, isn’t it? Billy and Captain America would be a lot safer riding through so-called “redneck” country because of changing social attitudes towards counterculture movements, I’d bet. The State, on the other had, would’ve pulled them over, fined them for traffic and helmet violations, strip-searched them, siezed their stash, impounded their bikes (for good), stolen their cash and personal effects, and slapped ’em with interstate traffiking charges to boot.

    Those two never would’ve made it out of Los Angeles.
    If they made Easy Rider today, the first ten minutes would be a road movie, and the last eighty minutes would be a prison flick.

  12. #12 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    I wonder if Phelps regrets the apology?

  13. #13 |  The Agitator » Blog Archive » The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets … | Biography of Michael Phelps | 

    […] Go here to see the original: The Agitator » Blog Archive » The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets … […]

  14. #14 |  claude | 

    The sheriff has a survey people can fill out. :-D

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Multiple choice question. Why is the Sheriff doing this?

    A.) He was forced into this by his obligation to be fair (as he explained in earlier coverage).

    B.) Because he can.

  16. #16 |  Fritz | 

    I think the publicity of this can only work against the drug warriors.

    Attention friends of Michael Phelps – keep your dogs in the basement!

  17. #17 |  anne | 

    check this out:

  18. #18 |  Marty |

    is the facebook link for ‘I bet I can find a million people who dont care Michael Phelps smoked weed.’

    #2 | bob42 |
    ‘It sounds like Sheriff Phelps suffers from a (thankfully) rare, but untreatable psychological disorder: “Megalo-Joe” Arpaio envy.’

    ‘Megalo-Joe envy’ seems to be the norm in law enforcement, not the exception.

  19. #19 |  Aresen | 

    #15 Dave Krueger

    you forgot to include option C.) Because Lott’s an asshole.

  20. #20 |  Reggie Hubbard | 

    I’m a big believer in comedy and finding the humor in a situation.

    This whole thing is god damn hilarious. I feel bad for the kids involved but this whole thing reeks of incompetence and poor judgment.

    I really can’t wait for the SWAT raid on Michael Phelps home, set-up hours in advance with the local media waiting outside. If the greatest swimming legend of all time winds up being the last great marijuana legalization martyr, then this episode will go down as one of the great farces of all time.

  21. #21 |  Marty | 

    #17 | anne

    I saw that story! I’m not sure how it’s not getting a lot more ink- with all the private prisons, I’m sure this happens elsewhere. I know the private healthcare providers in prisons will get the warden to give ‘medical paroles’ to really sick prisoners, so they don’t have to treat them. If they get better, they go back to prison…

    not meaning to hijack…

  22. #22 |  CHRISC | 

    maybe the sheriff can take this opportunity to lobby for some stimulus money so he can train several deputies in Navy/SEAL tactics too. You know, just in case they have to take down Michael Phelps in the water…

  23. #23 |  Bernard | 

    This feels like an episode of South Park, even more so than the War on Drugs (TM) itself does.

    Toward the end of the episode one of the adults will ask the guy next to him ‘does anyone care that he smoked pot?’ and they’ll all realise that noone actually gives a shit beyond believing they have to pretend to because everyone else is pretending to.

    The only problem is that this episode has been going on for rather longer than the normal 22 minutes and we seem far from getting to the hilarious conclusion.

    On post 17 about the judge sending kids to juvenile detention because the private company were paying him to I have two thoughts:

    a) When has the death penalty ever been more suitable?

    b) What are the chances of those kids having their records expunged (I’ll take bets on ‘slim’ or ‘none’ because anything else would be robbing you).

  24. #24 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Dope threatens the dogma, man. That’s all. Never get between the state and its dogma.

  25. #25 |  freedomfan | 

    And, apparently, the sheriff isn’t even being subtle that he is running an extortion racket, threatening these other kids with harsher prosecution so that they’ll knuckle under and cough up something he can use against Phelps.

    Honestly, even if they tell everything they know, I am not sure where there is more than a misdemeanor here, unless one of them was selling. And, unless they can trump up something substantial on Phelps (I haven’t heard it alleged that he was selling), the whole thing is a snoozer. Who ever heard of making all these arrests and leaning on kids just to pin a misdemeanor on someone?

    Once again, Phelps needs to refrain from saying anything specific about anything regarding him and pot and that bong that evening (or ever). If he’s asked why he was willing to make a statement about it before and he’s not now, he should just say, “Some people of questionable integrity are trying to build a reputation for themselves by ruining my life and the lives of some other people who may have met me. It’s a sick and pathetic abuse of power for career-building and I won’t help them in any way.”

  26. #26 |  Tim C | 

    #4 Steve – “*blazingly” – well played
    #12 Brandon – no crap, that’s what I’ve wondered several times. I’m sure it seemed like the best thing to seem as meek and sorry and remorseful etc as possible, but by doing so he basically confessed. It probably would’ve looked retarded to say “it wasn’t pot, don’t you know those things are legally sold as ‘tobacco water pipes’* you idiots?” but at least it would be more legally defensible.

    * many head shops feature signage advising that customers are not to refer to products as “bongs” or discuss any actual illegal activities on the premises, or they’ll be asked to leave

  27. #27 |  markm | 

    Radley, off-topic, but have you seen this one?

    Juvenile court judges who often imposed sentences harsher than even the prosecution asked for, sending the kids to private “rehabilitation” centers, turn out to have been on the take.

  28. #28 |  Aspasia | 

    “I guess they can at least be thankful Sheriff Leon Lott didn’t send his tank.”

    Yet. It’s amazing that few people are seeing that the concern around the drug use is just a smoke screen. Heh.

  29. #29 |  Cynical In CA | 

    I predicted Leon Lett wouldn’t let this opportunity go by the boards. He wants another APV to keep the one he has company.

    And that m-fer still owes me $50 from the 1993 Super Bowl pool.

  30. #30 |  Cynical In CA | 

    #8 | Aresen
    bob42 — “Sheriff PHELPS?”

    I think bob42 is suffering from Illinois RLC syndrome, where you try real hard but just can’t get the names right.

  31. #31 |  Aresen | 

    #30 | Cynical In CA | February 13th, 2009 at 8:41 pm
    #8 | Aresen
    bob42 — “Sheriff PHELPS?”

    I think bob42 is suffering from Illinois RLC syndrome, where you try real hard but just can’t get the names right.

    Maybe he meant “Michael Phelps for Sheriff”.

    I’d certainly donate to that campaign.

  32. #32 |  Cynical In CA | 

    I thought you were an anarchist!?!?!?!

  33. #33 |  Guido | 

    Marijuana is a plant.
    See above.

  34. #34 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    “They never asked him, ‘Who sold you the pot?’ Harpootlian continued. ‘They were asking, ‘Were you at the party with Michael Phelps? Did you see him using marijuana?’ It was all about Michael Phelps”

    Cripes, how embarassing. The sheriff can talk about the law and the alleged “evils” of drug use all he wants, but the truth is readily apparent. What a publicity whore this sheriff is!!! Hmm, call me cynical, but is it getting close to election time in good ole’ Richland County? Is this red meat for the few reactionary prudes out there that really think this is a big deal, Sheriff Lott?

  35. #35 |  FRIDAY NIGHT LINKS: Bilderberg Will Crush You, Crickets Eating Lettuce and Somebody Please Face-Kick Janeane Garafolo at ICED BORSCHT & Other Delights | 

    […] The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets Surreal […]

  36. #36 |  claude | 

    There seem to be several groups on facebook dedicated to the sheriff as well.

  37. #37 |  Stephen B | 

    Did anyone else notice that there is a school resource officer on their SWAT team? nice…

  38. #38 |  Robert S. Porter | 

    Yeah, I think it’s definitely time for Phelps to renounce his citizenship and seek sanctuary elsewhere.

  39. #39 |  bob42 | 

    re: my error in #2 above.

    A mistake like that might be construed as probable cause for a search warrant, as it’s the type of error that could possibly caused by cannabis consumption.

    If this is my last blog post, you’ll know what happened.

  40. #40 |  Lloyd | 

    Think the Phelps affair is surreal now? Wait for the congressional hearings.

  41. #41 |  Bernard | 

    It’s interesting to note that your incompotent would-be nemesis at the Illinois Republican Liberty site looks to have been shunted from the reins.

  42. #42 |  Bernard | 

    I do know how to spell ‘incompetent’. Just apparently not today.

  43. #43 |  Red Green | 

    What are Sheriff Lotts chances at reelection? He’s tough on crime and the voters are soft in the head.

  44. #44 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Dondero: fail?

    Credit for his quick removal if that’s the case.

  45. #45 |  Bill | 

    Looking at this picture, the only thing going through my mind is the voice of G. Gordon Liddy saying “Headshots.”

  46. #46 |  Sandy | 

    Funny–Harpootlian has had some of his own grandstanding as a prosecutor. Apparently as a defense attorney his incentives are different.

  47. #47 |  billy-jay | 

    I can only hope that the fucktard that took the picture has been rounded up and his life is being made a living hell.

    As for the rest of them, I feel for you guys. Try not to give those jackasses anything they can use in court.

  48. #48 |  billy-jay | 

    Question for those of you who aren’t anarchists:

    What do you expect from an entity that has a monopoly on criminal justice?

  49. #49 |  Rick Caldwell | 

    What billy-jay said.

  50. #50 |  Jim Collins | 

    They don’t need SEAL training, just chuck a flashbang into the pool. That will do the job nicely.

  51. #51 |  Ride Fast | 

    Sheriff Leon Lott didn’t have a tank, it’s an armored personal carrier. The difference does matter and I’m not defending Sheriff Lott. I don’t believe he has justified the APC and .50 cal machine guns, either.

  52. #52 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    @Bernard #42 (concerning #41): Just lose the “nco” and it turns out ok.

  53. #53 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Has anybody noticed…cops = suck.

  54. #54 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    The “fucktard” that took the picture should have the full force of facebook and myspace used against him such that he never scores grass or ass ever again.

    Just how many man-rules did that “fucktard” break any? I count 5 at least.

  55. #55 |  Michael Phelps « Beware The Man | 

    […] February 15, 2009 Michael Phelps Posted by John O under Political | Tags: Michael Phelps, reefer madness, SNL |   The Great Bong Hit Story of 2009 gets weirder. Radley is all over it, as usual. […]

  56. #56 |  seeker6079 | 

    Boyd Durkin:
    Which man-rules? List for fun and bonus points.

  57. #57 |  Defending People » Blawg Review #199 | 

    […] cops did their part to expose the WOD for a pathetic farce. Radley Balkoff (The Agitator) writes in The Michael Phelps Witch Hunt Gets Surreal: Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff’s Department went out and arrested eight people on […]

  58. #58 |  Another Isolated Incident | The Agitator | 

    […] the Blandings have some connection to Michael Phelps. Digg it |  reddit | |  […]

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    […] ammunition, and that he charmingly named “The Peacemaker.” He’s also the one who sent his SWAT team into the homes of University of South Carolina students whose only transgression was to have […]

  60. #60 |  Militant Libertarian » Scenes From Militarized America | 

    […] .50 caliber ammunition, and that he charmingly named “The Peacemaker.” He’s also the one who sent his SWAT team into the homes of University of South Carolina students whose only transgression was to have […]