Orangeburg legislators receive reprimand for physical altercation in State House


There are dramatically different accounts of what happened inside of the State House between two lawmakers, Representatives Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D- Orangeburg) and Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg), on May 11, 2017.

A letter just recently sent to the two explains House Speaker Jay Lucas’s investigation finds there’s not enough evidence from witnesses one way or another to warrant more than a stern written letter.

Lucas says in the letter, “First and foremost, incidents like these are unacceptable. Neither the South Carolina House of Representatives nor I have any tolerance for this lack of decorum.”

An outside law firm investigated allegations of unwarranted physical contact.

Both Cobb-Hunter and Govan agree the altercation began as a verbal argument over a contentious bill to consolidate Orangeburg County school districts. They say it happened in the narrow hallway between the House chamber and a meeting room.

Beyond that, stories are different.

Cobb-Hunter spoke to WIS, saying her arm was extended toward Govan, hand meant to keep personal space between them.

“He walks into my hand, grabs my wrist, twists it around, and pushed me back. Like that,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I’m leaning back just literally like I’m doing.” Cobb-Hunter acted out her version of what happened for reporter Ashleigh Holland. “And in my mind, I was like this guy is still coming toward me. And I’m like ‘Woah.'”

Cobb-Hunter said she went to the State House nurses, who realized her arm was swollen and gave her an ice pack.

But Govan’s story is different. He spoke to WIS, saying “there are two sides to every token.”

“We were in a very narrow, confined space. I did confront her in terms of some things that were said,” Govan said.

Govan said he will let the Speaker’s letter speak for itself; he agreed there was “mutual contact” between himself and Cobb-Hunter, but disagreed with the letter as it states that “Govan bears a higher level of responsibility to have avoided this incident, having been the initial aggressor.”

“It was more in a responsive mode as a result of contact. But I would never, I would never initiate contact in a situation like that,” Govan said.

Govan told WIS he issued an apology and hopes to move forward beyond the incident, calling it a distraction to real work on issues.

Cobb-Hunter is offended at the letter and the investigation’s conclusion. She is hoping for more consequences on Govan, and that the matter can go to the ethics committee.

“I have always been sympathetic to victims of violence. As a result of this experience, I am not only sympathetic but I am empathetic because I now understand how some battered women feel,” Cobb-Hunter said.

“It’s unfortunate, and we’re trying to move on beyond that,” Govan said.

WIS requested surveillance camera footage of the feud, but House staff say there is none.

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