For days it was a foregone conclusion in the media that Ryan Lochte and other U.S.A. Olympic swimmers had drunkenly trashed a gas station restroom, got caught, made restitution, and then made up a story about being shaken down by armed cops to cover up their boorish antics.
When the story blew up in the press, Rio de Janeiro police immediately announced that Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen were lying. Police claimed the swimmers made a false report, which is punishable by up to six months in prison.
Lochte left town before things really got hot, but Bentz and Conger were pulled off a flight and their passports confiscated by Rio police over the incident. They were eventually freed, but Jimmy Feigen was forced to pay $11,000 to a Rio charity before he was allowed to go back to the United States.
The incident was seen as an example of ‘ugly Americanism.’ Americans in Rio who were embarrassed took to the Olympic message wall to apologize for the swimmers’ behavior, assuming they were all guilty:
a marker board up at Rio's main airport where visitors going home's most popular message?
"Sorry about Ryan Lochte" pic.twitter.com/sgDnuxt1ZR
— amy ? (@kingvsqueen) August 21, 2016
The collective disgust has cost Lochte what’s left of his reputation and millions of dollars from lost endorsements with Ralph Lauren and Speedo, which both fired him Monday.
— Hope Dellon (@hopedellon) August 22, 2016
“That didn’t happen. The gun was drawn but not at my forehead. That’s why I’m taking full responsibility for it, because I over-exaggerated that story” [emphasis added]
So, what really happened?
USA Today sent a reporter to the scene, talked to witnesses and sought additional police reports about the case which had become an international incident. The resulting story casts doubt on the veracity of police officers’ official version of events and tends to support the swimmers’ version.
Witness statements, official investigations, surveillance videos & media reports support Ryan Lochte’s later account https://t.co/EstTlAQHTq
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) August 22, 2016
USA Today reports that the story which cops told about the trashed restroom could be bogus:
“An extensive review of surveillance footage by a USA TODAY Sports videographer who also visited the gas station supports swimmer Gunnar Bentz’s claim that he did not see anyone vandalize the restroom, an allegation that in particular heightened media portrayals of the four as obnoxious Americans behaving recklessly in a foreign country.”
Rio police said the soap dispenser was ripped off, the mirror was smashed and the door was trashed, but that doesn’t appear to have happened:
“A USA TODAY Sports videographer who visited the bathroom Thursday found no damage to soap dispensers and mirrors and said none of those items appeared to be new. Some media accounts suggested the men had broken down a door, which USA TODAY Sports also did not observe.”
The swimmers admitted they were drunk and boisterous and urinated behind the building because the restroom wasn’t open.
USA Today says there’s no released surveillance tape which shows the athletes going in or out of the restrooms, though other surveillance tape showing them at the gas station has been released.
Teammate criticizes Lochte's behavior, says Rio gas station guards demanded money https://t.co/5t3x8PA084
— Fox News (@FoxNews) August 20, 2016
USA Today reports that a sign was vandalized and, at gunpoint, the swimmers coughed up some money to pay for it. Gunner Bentz described it as a shake down by crooked cops:
“I gave them what I had in my wallet, which was a $20 bill, and Jimmy gave them 100 reals, which is about $50 in total. They lowered the guns, and I used hand gestures to ask if it was OK to leave, and they said yes,” he said in his statement.
Reporters from USA Today talked to a bilingual witness, a local DJ, who says the language barrier and escalating tension between the armed security guards and the athletes prompted him to intervene before someone got shot. He says he helped negotiate a settlement with the cops over the vandalized sign. There was never any mention of a trashed restroom that night.
The security guards, whose ‘day jobs’ are as government prison guards, appear to have flashed a badge. Rio police admitted they were armed.
A Rio judge told the newspaper that if the athletes paid more than the damage was worth, then it was a robbery.