COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AFP) — No charges will be filed against American swim star Michael Phelps from his being photographed with a pipe typically used to smoke marijuana, police announced on Monday.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said that after a full investigation into the November party at which Phelps was photographed, touching off a controversy that led to a three-month ban, there was not enough evidence to charge anyone.
"Having thoroughly investigated this matter, we do not believe we have enough evidence to prosecute anyone that was present at the November party," Lott said.
Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics six months ago, was shown holding a bong in a photograph published two weeks ago by a British newspaper, humiliating the superstar swimmer.
"I'm glad this matter is put to rest," Phelps said in a statement. "But there are also some important lessons that I've learned. For me, it's all about recognizing that I used bad judgment and it's a mistake I won't make again."
Phelps, 24, apologized for inappropriate behavior and was suspended for three months by USA Swimming. He also lost a sponsorship deal with cereal maker Kelloggs but now hopes the matter is in his wake and a lesson to others.
"For young people especially -- be careful about the decisions you make. One bad decision can really hurt you and the people you care about," Phelps said.
"I really appreciate the support my family and fans have shown me and now I will move forward and dive back into the pool, having put this whole thing behind me."
Police confiscated the bong, whose owner reportedly tried to sell the now-infamous pipe for 100,000 dollars on eBay, and questioned people regarding the party after learning it was staged near the University of South Carolina.
But Lott said he could not prove Phelps smoked marijuana.
"We had a photo and him saying he was sorry for inappropriate behavior," Lott said. "He never said, 'I smoked marijuana.' We didn't have physical evidence."
Lott had been criticized by some for seeking attention in going after Phelps but defended his inquiry as responsible law-enforcement given the situation.
"By ignoring the November incident, I would have been sending a message of tolerance and condoning the use of illegal drugs. I could not do that," Lott said.
"How can we teach our kids... not to do drugs, then look away when it's an important person?
"Michael Phelps and I agree that something positive needs to come from this incident and that is a message of not using drugs. My perspective is that the law pertains to everyone and our drug laws are to be enforced."
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