Michael Phelps: Role model, or Joint Roller?

Michael Phelps


Olympic swimming superstar, Michael Phelps, was photographed while holding a glass tube to his lips. That’s it. That’s what the photograph shows. Nothing more. Sure, the glass tube is probably a bong that’s used for smoking marijuana, and I’ll go out on a limb here and say that Phelps was probably inhaling deeply, and he was probably zonked out of his gourd. But that doesn’t change the fact that there’s no proof of drug use, right? All Phelps admitted to in his media statement was that he’d engaged in childish behavior.

So, is there probable cause to arrest Phelps and other party-goers based on this photo alone? Well, Sheriff Leon Lott of Richland County, S.C. thinks so. In fact, he’s already had his deputies arrest over a half dozen people who were present when the horrendous “crime” was committed.

Sheriff Lott is no dummy. He’s a career police officer with a very impressive background. Here’s an excerpt from the bio on his website:

“Born in Aiken, South Carolina, in 1953, Sheriff Leon Lott attended the University of South Carolina – Aiken, earning an Associate Degree in Police Administration. He went on to attend the University of South Carolina – Columbia, earning a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and continued with graduate study for a Masters in Criminal Justice. Later, Sheriff Lott graduated from the FBI National Academy, FBI National Executive Institute, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Furman University’s SC Diversity Leadership Academy.

Sheriff Lott came to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in 1975 as a patrol officer. He advanced thereafter to various positions, including Criminal Investigator, Narcotics Agent, Lieutenant and Captain of Narcotics Division, Administrative Captain, Uniform Patrol Captain, and Watch Commander. In 1993, Sheriff Lott took the position of Chief of Police of St. Matthews, SC.”

Obviously, Sheriff Lott is well-versed in drug crimes. He was in charge of the Narcotics Unit for goodness sake. So why does a sheriff with such an impressive background decide to go after a group of young folks for what’s seemingly a very petty offense? Would he have issued warrants if the person in the photo was an unknown goofball named Joe B. Dumb instead of megastar Phelps? Would the good sheriff put forth the same effort if he wasn’t an elected official and depended on the voters of Richland County for his income?

What is Lott’s motivation for pursuing such a minor case? What are your thoughts? Should Micheal Phelps and his friends be prosecuted? If not, why?

And – Michael Phelps has a previous DUI conviction. Does he have a problem with substance abuse?

* I do not approve of any drug use, nor do I approve of any illegal activity. I do not know Michael Phelps or Sheriff Lott. I’m sure they’re both fine people. Their records speak for themselves.

19 replies
  1. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Thanks. If you liked the book you’ll really like the online Writers Police Academy I’m putting together. It will also also be available on CD. Both should be available by the end of the month, or in early March.

  2. MysteryWriter
    MysteryWriter says:

    Oh we are, we are. I dine in gourmet restaurants like…McDonalds..and I zip around town in my flashy mini-van…or goober-mobile as the kids call it. With my writing income I can afford such a glam life.

    BTW, your Police Procedure & Investigation book was one of the best guides I’ve ever purchased.

  3. MysteryWriter
    MysteryWriter says:

    I know, you were trying to show that the sheriff had his work cut out for him. I’m a support of MADD as well. I agree-it is time to look elsewhere for role models. Like hard working moms and dads, firefighters, police officers, teachers….can you imagine if we made the $$$ the sports figures made? LOL

  4. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    MysteryWriter – I totally agree with you about people who drive under the influence, or do anything else that’s harmful while they’re under the influence of a mind-altering substance. People get hurt and lives are lost. That’s why I’m such a huge supporter of MADD. In fact, many of my fellow authors and I donated lots and lots of signed books for the past two years, through this blog, to a MADD auction to support the cause.

    I was merely pointing out how difficult it would be to prove a case based on what we know. Hopefully, the sheriff has more to go on than a photograph or two of Phelps holding a bong to his lips.

    As far as Phelps being a role model for kids – I think not. Not any longer. Guilty of the crime, or not. Personally, I think it’s time to look elsewhere for role models. Sports figures just don’t seem to cut it.

  5. MysteryWriter
    MysteryWriter says:

    The state of SC, where I live, does not have a state law against possession of drug paraphernalia. However, most if not all of the cities and towns DO have an ordinance against it and it is a criminal offense.

    While it may be hard to ‘prove’ if Phelps truly was at the college with the bong and getting stoned, he did have the paraphernalia in his hands and his actions were illegal. And even if it’s a can prove/can’t prove situation, for the law here to do nothing wouldn’t be right either.

    I’ve seen too many good old boys (some like Phelps with prior DUI) get stoned and injure innocent people.

    Regardless of Phelps’ ‘role model’ status, regardless of whether or not the sheriff can prove it, regardless of whether or not the sheriff is doing it for political reasons, the bottom line is the sheriff is still doing his job.

  6. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Jonathan – I’m glad you chimed in. You’re the perfect example of my point. Say a body was brought to your morgue along with an accompanying photo of the dead guy pressing a glass bong to his lips just minutes before he died. You’d probably assume that he’d been indulging in illegal drug activity, right? But the tox reports come back negative. Was there a crime of illegal drug possession?

    The same is true in Phelps’ case. There are no blood tests to determine he possessed any drug. All that’s seen are photos taken by party-goers trying to make a buck at Phelps’s expense. I’m just saying the evidence against Phelps is very weak to support a conviction of drug possession.

  7. Jonathan Hayes
    Jonathan Hayes says:

    My understanding was that the probable cause came from several images at the party plus the fact that the party-giver chose to try to auction the bong off on eBay, identifying it as the Michael Phelps bong.

    That gave them probable cause for the warrant, at which point a number of individuals were charged with possession and one with distribution.

    Phelps isn’t under arrest, or charged.

    I wondered whether the sheriff was a Phelps fan who was offended by the obnoxious behaviour of Phelps’ “friends”. Whatever one feels about the warrant/busts, I’d like to think it sends an admonishment to people who try to profiteeer like that.

  8. Rhonda Lane
    Rhonda Lane says:

    In this day and age, if you’re a celebrity, every person with a cellphone that takes photos is a potential paparazzi.

    Plus, I can’t imagine a young guy like Phelps who’s made it so big not being tempted to enjoy the various “adulations” that other young people can happily provide.

    Too bad he did it in a conservative state in a county where (and when) a sheriff faces re-election.

  9. Becky Levine
    Becky Levine says:

    I have, as a lot of people probably do, mixed feelings about this. Whether or not there is enough evidence of a crime to press charges and convict, I don’t know. I’d bet on the crime, but that’s different from voting yes on a jury. My gut is that the stupidest part of the whole thing was the cellphone part.

    In terms of the role model bit, this may be because I have about zero connection to/interest in professional sports and neither does my son, but I think the world may need to stop using these people as models to point their children toward. Everybody’s human, nobody’s perfect, and these athletes are not heros or gods. I’d rather teach my child to think about HIMSELF, about who HE wants to be, than ask him to follow in the footsteps of somebody else’s choices, good or bad.

    Whew! Well, you asked! 🙂

  10. Falcocop
    Falcocop says:


    I take it this is from the UK ‘News of the World’. Not one of our better newspapers but they do like this sort of story and I would bet they paid out quite a lot for this photograph.

    I don’t think for one moment, had the photo been taken in the U.K. that an arrest after the event could have been possible, but, if you really want to take it to the extremes there is a suspicion that a user could have some wherever he is staying and a Court may grant a Warrant for a search but I would have my doubts.


  11. Terry
    Terry says:

    It beats more press coverage of the Caylee case. Of course, here, that’s front page news (and every local network covered the memorial service yesterday), and the MP case is relegated to the spots section.

    When I had to take my VSA test for volunteering with the Sheriff’s Office, the first question on the list was ‘have you ever done anything, that if you did it today, would be a felony?’ I instinctively checked ‘no’ because I’m a good citizen, but that was only because I didn’t think that what I did back in the 60’s fell into that realm. The examiner and I did have a chuckle, and he changed my ‘no’ to a ‘yes’. I DID admit to my ‘checkered past’ in the section farther down the question list, but didn’t really connect the two.

    But an arrest based on a photograph? Sounds like political grandstanding to me. And I avoid politics wherever possible. This should be an interesting discussion — maybe not as heated as the ‘should authors show condom use on the page?’ that was hitting the blog circuit a week or so ago, but interesting nonetheless.

  12. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Steven – Good points, but where’s the evidence of a crime? How many people has the sheriff arrested in the past, AND CONVICTED, based on a photograph taken by a third party who’s not in law enforcement? What’s the sheriff going to take with him to court, a picture taken by another dope smoker from the party? What does that prove? Does the sheriff have blood test results to say Phelps had the drug in his system?

    It’s going to be a very tough case to prove. Unless… Hmm… Does South Carolina have a possession of drug paraphernalia law in place. Does anyone know? Phelps is definitely guilty of that based on the photograph – as long as they can prove the photo wasn’t doctored…

    Defense attorneys? Prosecutors? What’s your take?

    I think the defense will have a field day with this one, if it makes it that far.

  13. Steven T.
    Steven T. says:

    Well…I think the sheriff is wasting his time and efforts if he takes it too far, but it could very easily have been a much more serious incident say, for instance, if MP took a hit from the bong then got in his car and drove away.

    Also, it’s possible that if he said nothing about the incident, others in his jurisdiction might throw it back in his face when he tries going after them – “What Phelps got star treatment, but I have to spend a night in jail?”

  14. Elena
    Elena says:

    So, what elected office is Lott positioning himself for next? He already has the suit. Let’s see, an Olympic star would be worth a few points in a gubernatorial race on the ‘what are our kids coming to’ platform.

    And, it appears to me that Michael is guilty of nothing more than too much adoration for his maturity level.

    Wonder who Lott is going to protect us from next?

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