An alleged assault on state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, at the S.C. State House by another lawmaker is being investigated as a potential crime, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday.
“We are wrapping up our investigation and intend to turn the results over to (5th Circuit) Solicitor Dan Johnson,” Lott said Wednesday.
The alleged May 11 assault on Cobb-Hunter by state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, was looked into by the office of House Speaker Jay Lucas. But Lucas, R-Darlington, took no action.
Cobb-Hunter, 64, then hired a lawyer to investigate the matter. In September, she filed a formal complaint with the sheriff’s department.
Govan, 59, said Wednesday that he has fully cooperated with the sheriff's investigation and a previous House internal one.
“I will continue to focus on my job representing the citizens of House District 95 and will also continue to reach out to open the door for reconciliation with my colleague,” Govan said.
Lott declined to predict what the solicitor might do with the evidence gathered by his detectives.
But any situation involving violence against women is serious, he said. “We (South Carolina) are just about No. 1 in violence against women, and last month was Domestic Violence Awareness Month.”
The alleged incident between Cobb-Hunter and Govan, both Orangeburg County Democrats, took place just off the House floor in a narrow hallway that lawmakers use but not the public or media, according to media accounts at the time.
The two state representatives had been arguing over a bill to consolidate Orangeburg County school districts. Several people witnessed all or part of the incident, but there were no security cameras.
After the incident, Cobb-Hunter told reporters that Govan grabbed her wrist, twisted her arm and pushed her, causing her to walk around with an ice pack for the day.
After the incident, Lucas hired a private law firm to investigate the incident. Lucas later told reporters the firm’s investigation could not determine who initiated the incident.
Lucas then wrote a letter to Govan and Cobb-Hunter, advising them to keep their disagreements civil and professional in the future.
“(N)either I nor the South Carolina House of Representatives has any tolerance for unwanted physical contact by or with members of staff,” he said. “I want to reiterate the emphasis all of us must place on civil, professional interactions, regardless of the circumstances.”
Cobb-Hunter wasn’t pleased with that letter, which she said appeared to blame both lawmakers for the incident.
On Wednesday, Cobb-Hunter issued a statement. “I really appreciate Sheriff Lott’s willingness to investigate my complaint since my efforts to get it done through State House channels were unsuccessful. Thank God, the process has finally been initiated, and I have no further comments.”
Lott said Lucas turned over the results of the law firm’s investigation into the confrontation to sheriff’s department investigators.
In a statement Wednesday, a Lucas spokeswoman said the speaker has “great confidence in the investigation our outside attorneys conducted and believes that the appropriate conclusion was reached, given the details relayed by witnesses at the time.’’
However, Lucas “welcomes law enforcement’s independent review of this incident and will continue to provide any and all materials available until the matter is resolved,” the spokeswoman said.