State Rep. Jerry Govan, facing a criminal charge of assault against a female colleague at the State House, Monday asked for a jury trial.
“The facts will speak for themselves , and we are confident they will result in a verdict favorable to Mr. Govan,” said Theresa Johns, the lawmaker’s attorney, outside the Richland County Magistrate’s Court office complex on Decker Boulevard.
With Govan at her side, Johns said she hoped for a court date by March.
Witnesses from the State House likely will be called to testify, said Johns, predicting the trial would last more than a day. “We are going to defend this case to the end.”
Govan declined comment.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, whom Govan is accused of assaulting, was not present.
Govan was arrested Nov. 9 and charged with assault and battery in the third degree. After his arrest, the 59-year-old veteran Democratic legislator was held briefly at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center and then released on a $1,087 personal recognizance bond. That means he did not have to put up any money as bond but promised to appear for future court dates.
Assault and battery in the third degree includes aggressive actions that cause injuries that are not severe. The charge is a misdemeanor. If found guilty, Govan could be fined up to $500 and sentenced to 30 days in jail, according to state law.
The alleged assault had its origins in an angry spat at the State House in a room just off the House of Representatives. Govan and state Rep. Cobb-Hunter were arguing about a local bill.
Govan "did approach the victim yelling at her ... which made the victim extend her arm out to keep Mr. Govan from getting any closer to her," the warrant said.
"Mr. Govan then grabbed the right wrist area and twisted, causing the victim to also fall back," the warrant said. "The victim did have soreness and swelling to her right wrist area."
The incident took place May 11
An initial investigation by the office of House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, was inconclusive, and no charges were brought.
Instead, Lucas wrote Govan and Cobb-Hunter, advising them to keep disagreements on a professional level in the future. Lucas added there would be no tolerance for "unwanted physical contact."
Later, Cobb-Hunter hired an attorney, former state SLED chief Reggie Lloyd, to investigate the matter. She also filed a complaint with the Richland Sheriff’s Department. Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson’s office reviewed the sheriff’s investigation, found probable cause that a crime had happened and approved issuing the warrant.
After Govan’s arrest, House Speaker Lucas issued a statement, stressing his belief the law firm hired by his office after the incident had conducted an "exhaustive investigation." A lawyer for the speaker’s office then re-investigated the matter, seeking out more testimony from potential witnesses, "to ensure the investigation was as comprehensive as possible," Lucas said.
At that time, there wasn’t enough evidence to conclude Govan had assaulted, Lucas said. Citing the differing conclusion by Richland County officials, Lucas said: "I believe this conclusion is based upon altered testimony or a differing recollection of events than those available to me throughout the House’s investigation.
"Given these inconsistencies that have now arisen five months after the initial event, this matter is best handled through the criminal justice system."
The two state representatives were arguing about a bill about consolidating Orangeburg County school districts.