An Orangeburg lawmaker has been formally charged with assaulting another in a dispute over school consolidation.
Rep. Jerry N. Govan, D-Orangeburg, was charged Thursday with third-degree assault and battery, a misdemeanor. He’s accused of injuring Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg.
Govan is free on bond after turning himself in at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia.
A Richland County Sheriff’s Department warrant says the dispute occurred on May 11 as Govan approached Cobb-Hunter in a back conference room of the S.C. Statehouse in Columbia.
The warrant says Govan yelled, “Don’t put words in my mouth!”
At that point, Cobb-Hunter “extended her arm out to keep Mr. Govan from getting any closer to her,” the warrant said.
That’s when Govan allegedly grabbed Cobb-Hunter on her “right wrist area” then twisted it, which caused her to fall back.
“The victim did have soreness and swelling to her right wrist area,” the warrant states.
She received medical treatment from a nurse at the Statehouse.
In a prior interview, she noted that she kept an ice pack on her wrist for two days.
The two lawmakers had been discussing legislation that called for consolidating Orangeburg County’s three school districts into one.
On Thursday afternoon, Richland County Magistrate Stephanie D. Bess set Govan’s bond at $1,087 on his personal recognizance.
He waived his right to appear in court, but attorney Theresa N. Johns represented him at the bond hearing.
Johns said she’s going to “rely on the facts and the law” while defending Govan.
“This is not what the people of Orangeburg expect in their representatives,” she said. “We hope to reestablish their confidence in the system and representatives when this is over.”
She said there was a “mutual unwanted touching” between Govan and Cobb-Hunter during the May 11 incident.
“He really wanted to take the high road in this case,” Johns said. Johns said Govan hasn’t had the opportunity to tell his side of the story.
“All of the facts will come out in trial,” she said.
Cobb-Hunter did not appear at Govan's bond hearing.
After the hearing, Govan said he learned Tuesday that the Richland County Sheriff’s Department had a warrant for his arrest.
He turned himself in to authorities on Thursday morning, accompanied by his wife and attorney.
Govan declined to provide specific details about the May 11 incident, but maintains that Cobb-Hunter initiated contact.
“The fact of the matter is she forced an object directly in my face,” he said.
He said he responded as any reasonable person would.
“I did not file a complaint at that time because the event was immediately reported to the (House) Speaker,” Govan said.
House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, had the incident investigated. On June 6, he sent a letter urging both lawmakers to keep future engagements civil and professional.
Lucas’ letter cited a lack of clear evidence about who initiated the physical contact, but noted the two made “mutual physical contact with one another as a result of the confrontation.”
“If clearer evidence of who initiated the physical contact existed, I can assure you both that severe consequences would result,” he said in the letter.
Cobb-Hunter took exception to Lucas’ letter.
In an interview shortly after, she said that after House security restrained Govan, he was “still making an attempt to come after me.”
She said Lucas “took the easy way out” by claiming both were at fault.
She also noted, “I believe in this instance, previous acts of violence by Govan have gone unchecked.”
In 2004, Govan got into a heated confrontation with then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, which included contact and led to them being separated by staff. Govan was removed from the Judiciary Committee.
Cobb-Hunter hired attorney Reggie Lloyd to investigate the May 11 incident and get statements from witnesses.
Govan said that neither he nor his attorney were surprised at the charge.
“I’m obviously very disappointed,” he said. “Even though it has personal ramifications on my good name and character, more important are the citizens I represent who placed their faith and trust in me throughout the years.”
He said certain parties weren’t satisfied with the outcome of the House investigation, so they “shopped around” until they “found somebody willing to take it up.”
“I look forward to being exonerated based on what happened,” he said.
Cobb-Hunter could not be reached Thursday.
Lucas told The (Columbia) State on Thursday that the House investigation into the incident was exhaustive.
He told The State he believes the Richland County Sheriff’s Office’s conclusion, “is based upon altered testimony or a differing recollection of events than those available to me throughout the House’s investigation.”
Given the inconsistencies that have arisen, he believes the issue should be handled by law enforcement.
If convicted, Govan faces a maximum fine of $500, 30 days in jail or both.
Govan is expected to appear in court again on Dec. 11 at 1 p.m.