A day after police pulled two of Ryan Lochte’s teammates off a U.S.-bound plane to discuss their claims of being robbed last weekend, we’re seeing reports that the group was involved in an altercation that centered on a gas station’s bathroom.
The police have scheduled a 2 p.m. ET news conference to discuss the case. But even as new details emerge, Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada downplayed the case’s significance at a briefing Thursday morning.
“Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They are magnificent athletes,” Andrada said. “Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all times. They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on. Let’s go.”
But many here in Rio — and anyone who’s confused by what’s become a convoluted story involving international air flights, a possible false crime report, and accusations of wanton urination — are unable to move on.
Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso says the American athletes owe Rio an apology, reports the Globo news outlet, which quotes Veloso saying, “The only truth they told is that they were drunk.”
The new narrative that now competes with the one put forth by Lochte and his teammates – his roommate Jimmy Feigen, along with Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger – describes a scene at a gas station where the athletes wanted to use the bathroom.
In this version of the story, as in Lochte’s, the Americans were heading back to the Athletes Village after a late-night party. But then, Rashomon-like, come the variations. In one version, the athletes wrecked the station’s bathroom; in another, they urinated in public after arguing with station workers. In both of those accounts, the scene ends with an argument about paying for the damage.
Local media here in Rio are showing footage from the station’s camera surveillance system that captured video of the swimmers at the station. That footage shows that all of the athletes got out of their cab and went down a hall in the station — and that when they returned, several of them tried to get in the wrong cab. After their vehicle was approached by station attendants, the athletes eventually got back out.
Time codes on the surveillance video suggest that the swimmers spent at least 10 minutes at the station — including a long stint in which they sat along a wall, after station staff approached their taxi. Local outlets report that a security guard pulled out his gun to keep them from leaving without paying.
These new versions of events are vastly different from the one put forth by Lochte. In his original account, the four Americans’ vehicle was stopped by thieves, and while he initially resisted their attempts to rob him, he eventually went along.
Here’s what Lochte told NBC, as we reported Sunday: “I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cellphone, he left my credentials.”
Police have been puzzling over the case since Sunday, and a new twist arrived Wednesday, when video from the security checkpoint at the Athletes Village showed Lochte and his friends arriving home from their night out, looking no worse for the wear, and retaining several expensive items thieves often target, such as their cellphones and watches.
Last night, police removed Bentz and Conger from their plane at Rio’s Tom Jobim International Airport and took them to a nearby police station for what’s been reported as four hours of questioning. Feigen, their teammate, had checked in for the same flight but did not board the plane.
Thursday, the U.S. Olympic Committee says that Bentz and Conger, along with Feigen, “are cooperating with authorities and in the process of scheduling a time and place today to provide further statements to the Brazilian authorities. All are represented by counsel and being appropriately supported by the USOC and the U.S. Consulate in Rio.”
Wednesday morning, police tried to seize the passports of both Lochte and Feigen, but Lochte is currently back in the U.S. — on Wednesday, his attorney told NPR that he had not received any communications about the case from Brazilian authorities.