RIO DE JANEIRO (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police in Brazil said Thursday that Ryan Lochte and three other American swimmers were not the victims of an armed robbery as they claimed.
But the mystery behind the claim that Lochte and his teammates were robbed after a night of partying in Rio de Janeiro only deepened further Thursday. Officials first blamed him for making it up, but then backtracked on some details and acknowledged the Olympians had been confronted by security guards with guns.
The robbery that was or wasn’t has become the biggest spectacle outside of the Olympic venues in Rio, and given American swimming a black eye in Brazil after an otherwise remarkable run at the Summer Games.
“No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed,” Civil Police chief Fernando Veloso said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, as CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported, new surveillance footage released by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo shows four Olympic swimmers early Sunday morning at a Rio gas station. At one point, the men are seen leaving their taxi and are made to sit on the ground with their hands in the air.
But a Brazilian police official said it was a confrontation with a security guard over damage to a bathroom not an armed robbery. The new information contradicts what swimmer Ryan Lochte claimed earlier this week.
Everyone agrees that Lochte, along with fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen, stopped at the gas station in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb of Rio where many Olympic venues are located. They had been at the French hospitality house celebrating the final night of swimming events at the Rio Games.
“They pulled us over. They pulled out their guns. They told the other swimmers to get down on the ground. The guy pulled out his gun. He cocked it, put it to my forehead and said get down, and I was like, I put my hands up. I was like, whatever,” Lochte said earlier this week.
But a Brazilian police official told The Associated Press that two of the swimmers said Lochte had made the story up. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing, the official said the swimmers had tried to open a door at a gas station but it was jammed. They broke the door, and a security guard came to investigate. Then, the official said, the station manager demanded money to pay for the door. The swimmers handed over money and left.
Hours later, the official changed the story and said two security guards pointed guns at the swimmers. The change in the version of events came after police interviewed one of the security guards Thursday.
The official said the swimmers broke the bathroom door and a soap dispenser inside.
Workers at the gas station went to see what the commotion was about, the official said. At that point, a security guard also came and confronted the swimmers, and pointed a gun. A second guard came behind him and pointed another gun.
O Globo also quoted an unnamed gas station owner accusing the Americans of vandalism, as well as urinating in an alley.
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, has maintained that there is no question the robbery occurred.
Lochte, 32, first lied about the robbery to his mother, Ileana Lochte, who spoke with reporters, the police official said. That led to news coverage of the incident and prompted police attention.
The swimmers could 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.
The fourth swimmer James Feigan was still in Brazil revising his statement in hopes of getting his passport released.
Even though Lochte is safe from the Brazilian authorities, he’s not safe from the court of public opinion.
As CBS2’s Steve Overmyer reported, the front page of the New York Post made the point that Lochte’s actions validate all of the stereotypes of the ugly American.
Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio organizers, said he was relieved that the story had turned around from the robbery claim.
“Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret,” Andrada said. “Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all-time. They had fun, they made a mistake, it’s part of life, life goes on, let’s go.”
The situation escalated Wednesday when Conger and Bentz were pulled from a flight at the Rio de Janeiro airport amid uncertainty over what truly took place.
Court officials had called for the four swimmers’ passports to be seized, but Lochte already had returned to the United States before authorities could enforce the decision.
Representatives from the U.S. consulate arrived at the airport shortly after the swimmers were stopped from leaving the country Wednesday night.
Brazilian authorities continued pressing the American swimmers over the ever-changing account of the robbery. Police said the swimmers were unable to provide key details in early interviews and they found little evidence to support the robbery claim. The swimmers said they had been intoxicated and could not remember what type and color of taxi they rode, where the incident happened or what time the events occurred, police said. The police official said officers grew suspicious when they reviewed security video of the swimmers returning to the athletes village and saw them wearing watches.
Brazilian authorities noted that the men do not appear shaken and even appear to joke around in the video, CBS News reported.
The office of Judge Keyla Blanc, who ordered the passports seized, said there were discrepancies in the statements by the swimmers.
Lochte had said he was with Conger, Bentz and Feigen when they were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi by men with a police badge as they returned to the athletes’ village from a party several hours after the final Olympic swimming events on Saturday.
NBC reported Wednesday night that Lochte backed off some of his earlier claims, saying the taxi wasn’t pulled over by men with a badge but rather the athletes were robbed after stopping at a gas station. Lochte also said the assailant pointed a gun at him rather than putting it to his head.
Authorities said that after the incident, the swimmers did not call police; officers began investigating after they saw media reports in which Lochte’s mother spoke about the incident.
Police Chief Veloso said an apology could go a long way.
“They are people. They can make mistakes, because probably they were under alcoholic beverage, or anything like this, and excuses, that they need to provide the apologies in a way – not to the police, but really to the city of Rio de Janeiro that had its name tainted by a very unreal, untruthful version,” Veloso said through an interpreter.
The British Olympic team said Thursday one of its athletes also was robbed in Rio. The British Olympic Association was responding to a Guardian report that the unnamed athlete was held up at gunpoint after a night out. The BOA declined to say if the incident was reported to police.
Lochte has won 12 Olympic medals, including a gold as part of the U.S. 4×200 relay team in Rio.
This was not the first time Lochte has been in trouble with the law. In 2010, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and in 2005 for public urination and trespassing.
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