- News in Photo
US swimmer made up entire holdup story.
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Brazilian police said Thursday that swimmer Ryan Lochte and US teammates were not robbed after a night of partying, and that the intoxicated athletes instead vandalized a gas station bathroom and were questioned by armed guards before they paid for the damage and left.
The robbery that was or wasn’t has become the biggest spectacle outside of the Olympic venues in Rio, and given American Olympians a black eye in Brazil after an otherwise remarkable run at the Summer Games. The ordeal was also a blow to Brazilians, who for months endured scrutiny about whether a city that has long had problems with violence would be able to keep athletes and tourists safe.
“No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed,’’ Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said during an afternoon news conference.
But the police account raised questions about whether it’s possible Lochte and the swimmers believed they were victims of a robbery. Lochte’s attorney has maintained that one took place and insisted the swimmer had nothing to gain by making the story up. He, as well as Lochte’s father and agent, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The swimmers could potentially face punishment – probation, suspension, a fine or expulsion – under USA Swimming’s code of conduct, which prohibits dishonesty or fraud. It was not immediately clear if the organization planned to act. It was also not clear if the swimmers would face criminal charges.
Lochte initially said that he and teammates Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen were held at gunpoint and robbed after a night of partying on the final night of Olympic swimming. Police said earlier this week that they couldn’t find evidence to substantiate the claim, and a judge ordered the swimmers’ passports held as the investigation continued. Lochte had already returned to the US but the others stayed, and Conger and Bentz were pulled off a plane at the Rio airport.
While some details in the official account of the story changed on Thursday – police first said no guns were involved, then backtracked and said two guards pointed weapons in their direction – security video confirmed that the athletes vandalized parts of the gas station, leading to an encounter with station employees.
The closed-circuit video shows one of the swimmers pulling a sign off of a wall and dropping it onto the ground. A gas station worker arrives, and other workers go to inspect the damage. Veloso said the swimmers broke a door, a soap dispenser and a mirror.
The swimmers eventually talk with security guards, who persuade them to walk to another section of the station. Their cab leaves.
As they talk, two of the swimmers put their hands up and all four sit down on a curb. After several minutes, they stand up and appear to exchange something – perhaps cash, as police said – with one of the men.
A police official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said two guards pointed guns at the swimmers. Veloso said the guards did not use excessive force and would have been justified in drawing their guns because the athletes “were conducting themselves in a violent way.’’
A station employee called police, and the guards and employees tried to get the swimmers and the taxi driver to stay until authorities arrived, some even offering to help as an interpreter, Veloso said.