A Richland County jury found a veteran S.C. lawmaker not guilty Tuesday of assaulting his S.C. House colleague, who alleged the Orangeburg Democrat injured her by grabbing and twisting her wrist during a May 2017 incident.
A jury of five men and one woman deliberated for less than 20 minutes before finding state Rep. Jerry Govan not guilty of assault and battery in the third degree, a misdemeanor.
Had Govan been found guilty of assaulting Democratic state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter — also of Orangeburg — he could have been fined up to $500 and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
“Certainly, it was a relief ... that I finally got a chance to tell my story, and the truth has finally come out,” Govan told reporters after the verdict. “Obviously, we’re pleased with the verdict, with the jury and to God be the glory.”
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Cobb-Hunter told reporters that all she wanted was her day in court and an opportunity to have her story told.
“The fact still remains, from my perspective, the system is broken,” she said. “My message for victims is take a lesson from me. Be persistent. Don’t let the not-guilty verdict dissuade you from coming forward if you are a victim.”
Govan was accused of assaulting Cobb-Hunter on May 11, 2017, inside the private cloakroom in the S.C. House.
The incident followed a disagreement between the two Orangeburg Democrats over an amendment to a bill that consolidated three Orangeburg County school districts.
Govan told the jury Tuesday that Cobb-Hunter shoved a cellphone, wrapped in a piece of paper, at his face, and he pushed her arm back to “remove the threat from my face.”
Cobb-Hunter told the jury Monday that Govan “walked up on me, grabbed my wrist and pushed me back,” The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.
State Rep. Greg Duckworth, R-Horry, testified Tuesday that he watched Cobb-Hunter push Govan’s head back, and that he then saw and heard Govan’s arm blocking Cobb-Hunter’s.
In closing arguments, Theresa Johns, Govan’s attorney, argued Govan acted in self-defense.
Assistant Richland County Solicitor April Sampson argued Govan could not keep his hands to himself, resulting in Cobb-Hunter’s right wrist area swelling and causing her to go to the nurse.
After the incident, S.C. House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, ordered an investigation, but that investigation was inconclusive. No charges were filed.
In September 2017, Cobb-Hunter filed a formal complaint with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Now-suspended 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson’s office reviewed the sheriff’s investigation and found probable cause to issue a warrant for Govan’s arrest.
Cobb-Hunter and Govan both said Tuesday that they walk away from court with a bigger message.
“There is still in my mind a question about the system and how the average, ordinary victim of assault goes about getting a remedy for that,” Cobb-Hunter said.
Govan called his arrest an “inhumane, debilitating” experience, saying it has given him a “new fervor ... to look at the disparity of treatment” of those in the criminal justice system.
“There should be an element of human decency.”