An S.C. House representative was arrested Thursday and charged with assaulting a female lawmaker.
State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, 59, is charged with assault and battery in the third degree, according to Richland County jail records. He was released from the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on a $1,087 personal recognizance bond about 2:25 p.m.
Govan was not immediately available to comment. But his lawyer, Theresa Johns of Columbia, said, “It’s definitely going to be a jury trial.”
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.
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According to a warrant, the assault took place in a back conference room at the State House after a verbal altercation between Govan and state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
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.”
Govan turned himself in at the Glenn Detention Center about 8:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department.
Govan’s treatment upset some lawmakers.
“Why is it that white legislators who are charged with much more serious crimes, including felonies, are allowed to simply go to the courthouse and be booked there?” asked House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland. “But the black legislator is made to go to the jail.
The May 11 incident between Cobb-Hunter, 65, and Govan – both veteran Orangeburg Democrats – originally was investigated by the office of House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington. But that investigation were 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.”
Cobb-Hunter later hired an attorney, Reggie Lloyd, to investigate the matter. She filed a formal complaint in September 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.
House Speaker Lucas issued a statement Thursday, stressing his belief that 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 Cobb-Hunter, 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.”
Govan and Cobb-Hunter had argued over a bill about consolidating Orangeburg County school districts just before the altercation.
County magistrate Stephanie Bess forbid reporters from being in the courtroom where Govan appeared Thursday. She allowed one press pool video camera to film without sound. That action is rare among S.C. judges and magistrates.
Past S.C. House investigations
State Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, rose to position of House speaker in 2014 after then-Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, resigned and pleaded guilty to using campaign money for personal expenses. Since then, Lucas’ office has investigated two cases that resulted in resignations.
▪ State Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Horry, who resigned in May 2015 over allegations of sexual harassment
▪ State Rep. Eddie Southard, R-Berkeley, who resigned in April 2016 after a House page filed a sexual harassment complaint