COLUMBIA, S.C. - A South Carolina sheriff said Monday hewas not going to charge swimmer Michael Phelps after a photo of the14-time gold medalist showed him smoking from a marijuana pipe.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said during a news conferencethat he didn't have enough physical evidence to charge the swimmer,but he defended his investigation.
"Michael Phelps is truly an American hero ... but even with hisstar status, he is still obligated to obey the laws of our state,"Lott said.
Phelps released a statement after the sheriff's decision.
"I'm glad this matter is put to rest. But there are also someimportant lessons that I've learned," Phelps said in thestatement. "For me, it's all about recognizing that I used badjudgment and it's a mistake I won't make again. For young peopleespecially -- be careful about the decisions you make. One baddecision can really hurt you and the people you care about. Ireally appreciate the support my family and fans have shown me andnow. I will move forward and dive back into the pool, having putthis whole thing behind me."
The photo showed Phelps smoking from a marijuana pipe at a partyin November when he visited the University of South Carolina. Lottsaid he seized the marijuana pipe, known as a bong, that was in thephoto but couldn't prove Phelps had smoked from it.
"We had a photo and him saying he was sorry for inappropriatebehavior. He never said, 'I smoked marijuana.' We didn't havephysical evidence," Lott said.
USA Swimming suspended Phelps for three months in the wake ofthe photo, and Kellogg Co. said it would not renew its endorsementdeal with him.
The photo surfaced in a British newspaper, News of the World, onFeb. 1. The swimmer, who won a record eight gold medals at theBeijing Games, did not dispute its authenticity.
News of the World said the picture was taken during a partywhile Phelps was visiting the university. During that trip, heattended one of the school's football games and received a bigovation when introduced to the crowd.
The sheriff's office said eight people were arrested during theinvestigation. Seven have been charged with simple possession ofmarijuana, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail or a$575 fine. Another person was arrested for driving undersuspension.
The sheriff's office wouldn't identify those charged but anattorney for three of them said the cases should be handled justlike any other marijuana possession charge. Attorney DickHarpootlian said he expects his clients to either have the chargedismissed or for them to get a conditional discharge, which allowsan offender to avoid punishment as long as they comply with certainconditions for six months and stay out of trouble.
The party occurred nearly three months after the Olympics whilePhelps was taking a break from training, and his actions shouldhave no impact on the eight golds he won at Beijing. He has nevertested positive for banned substances.
This isn't the first embarrassing episode for Phelps after anOlympic triumph. In 2004, a few months removed from winning sixgold and two bronze medals in Athens, the swimmer was arrested on adrunken driving charge at age 19. He pleaded guilty and apologizedfor the mistake.