In an extensive investigation featuring an eyewitness interview, observance of multiple surveillance camera videos, and an on-location visit, USA Today has found significant evidence that American Olympic champion Ryan Lochte was robbed at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro, and police lied about him and three other U.S. swimmers vandalizing a bathroom.
In the narrative of events that all parties agree on, Lochte and teammates James Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger were detained at a gas station last week at gunpoint after an attendant caught them urinating behind the station. The men were en route back to the Olympic Village from a party to which they were invited by Brazilian swimmer Thiago Silva. All four are described as extremely inebriated, and were only allowed to leave the station after handing over cash to the station attendant and two law enforcement officers.
Lochte initially said one of the armed men held a gun to his forehead after he refused to sit down. He has since apologized for what he characterized as an “over-exaggeration.” But that detail led to Brazilian officials charging Lochte and Feigen, who also spoke with police, with filing a false police report, even though neither of them went to police; Rio officials opened an investigation when Lochte’s mother, Ileana, told the media about the incident.
Every other detail in Lochte’s story, USA Today has found, appears to have been true. The newspaper has identified the “men with badges” that held them up as police officers working private security at the gas station to make ends meet; there is no reason for them to have used their police badges at the time, and Rio police have not provided an explanation why they did.
Meanwhile, a USA Today videographer in Rio de Janeiro found no proof corroborating some of the details provided by Rio de Janeiro police about the incident, most notably the claim that the swimmers broke a soap dispenser and mirror in the gas station bathroom. The reporter 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.”
No surveillance footage indicates the men were anywhere near the bathrooms, and an eyewitness whose English language skills contributed to resolving the situation says the bathrooms were never mentioned when the security guards demanded money. Fernando Deluz, a DJ who happened upon the scene, described the men as extremely drunk and struggling to communicate with the guards.
Despite the evidence supporting Lochte’s story, the damage to his reputation has been done. Lochte has apologized profusely for the incident, particularly to the U.S. Olympic team – which he still hopes to join in the 2020 Olympics – and to his sponsors. At least one sponsor, Speedo, has dropped Lochte, citing “behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for.” The U.S. Olympic team, meanwhile, has said further action will be taken against the swimmers without specifying what that may entail.
The night before Speedo announced they would drop the sponsorship, Lochte sat for an interview/scolding with Today’s Matt Lauer, who repeatedly asserted to Lochte that the incident was not a robbery with more certainty than Brazilian judge João Batista Damasceno could tell USA Today. “I’m just embarrassed,” Lochte mused, while repeating the basic details of what transpired: “All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
Lochte has also been the target of race/class critiques that accuse him of enjoying Anglo-American privilege abroad as a result of being held up for money at gunpoint, critiques which ignore Lochte’s Hispanic ethnic background.