Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brazilian Police Say Lochte, U.S. Swimmers Were Not Robbed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Brazilian Police Say Lochte, U.S. Swimmers Were Not Robbed

Article excerpt

RIO DE JANEIRO * Brazilian police said Thursday that swimmer Ryan Lochte and three U.S. teammates were not robbed after a night of partying and that the intoxicated athletes instead vandalized a gas station restroom 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, casting a shadow over American Olympians in Brazil amid an otherwise remarkable run at the Summer Games. The ordeal was also a blow to Brazilians, who for months endured scrutiny about whether the city could keep athletes and tourists safe given its long history of violence.

"No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed," Civil Police Chief Fernando Veloso said in a news conference.

The police account directly contradicted claims from Lochte's attorney made earlier in the week. The attorney, Jeff Ostrow, had maintained that the robbery took place and insisted the swimmer had nothing to gain by making the story up. Ostrow, as well as Lochte's father and agent, did not return phone calls .

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 whether the organization planned to act. It was also not clear whether the swimmers would face criminal charges, though police said the athletes could be charged with destruction of property, falsely reporting a crime or both.

Veloso said that it was up to the courts but that as far as he was concerned the athletes could leave the country.

Vandalism on video

Lochte, 32, initially said that he and teammates Jack Conger, 21, Gunnar Bentz, 20, and Jimmy Feigen, 26, were held at gunpoint and robbed several hours after the last Olympic swimming races ended. 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 U.S., but the others stayed, and Conger and Bentz were pulled off a plane at the Rio airport.

Though 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 had pointed weapons in the athletes' direction security video confirmed the athletes had vandalized parts of the gas station, leading to an encounter with station employees.

The 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 inspect the damage. Veloso said the swimmers broke a door, a soap dispenser and a mirror.

The swimmers eventually talk with station workers as their cab leaves.

As they talk, two of the swimmers briefly raise their hands and all four sit down on a curb. The footage doesn't appear to show anyone pointing a gun at the swimmers. After a few minutes, the swimmers 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 said two guards had pointed guns at the swimmers. Veloso said the guards did not use excessive force and would have been justified in drawing their weapons because the athletes "were conducting themselves in a violent way. …

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