Thursday, police in Rio de Janeiro indicted U.S. Olympic swimmers Ryan Lochte and James Feigen for falsely reporting a crime, the latest twist in a bizarre case that has overshadowed the final week of the Summer Olympic Games.
Lochte originally claimed that he, Feigen and their teammates Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were robbed at gunpoint on Sunday morning. Police began to question the story after being unable to find corroborating witnesses.
Under Brazilian law, a judge still must decide whether to accept the police indictment, which is punishable by a fine or up to six months in prison. If the judge does not accept the indictment, the case will be dropped.
At first, there was no comment from Lochte, Feigen or the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Lochte returned to the U.S. earlier this week. The Washington Post reported this evening that Conger and Bentz had been cleared to leave Brazil and were heading to the Rio airport. Feigen was believed to still be in Rio, though his exact whereabouts were not known.
At a press conference earlier Thursday, Rio police used security camera footage to claim that the athletes were not robbed, but had vandalized a gas station bathroom.
Conger and Bentz were not indicted because they did not speak to police until Wednesday, when they were pulled off a flight bound for the United States by authorities, and never claimed they had been robbed.
Because Lochte and Feigen are first-time offenders, they will likely only be fined if the judge accepts the indictment.
During Thursday’s news conference, Rio police said a security guard pointed a gun at the athletes as the swimmers attempted to leave the scene in a taxi cab before police arrived.
“Yes, according to the security guards, they said that because one of them was very upset,” Rio de Janeiro chief of civil police Fernando da Silva Veloso said through a translator. “So if there was a use of an arm it was to contain them.”
Once they were contained, “the weapon was holstered,” da Silva Veloso said. The athletes were outside of the cab when the weapon was pointed at them.
Police said Lochte was the individual at the gas station who appeared “most upset,” and da Silva Veloso confirmed that the group was “under the influence” during the encounter.
Police said the athletes ultimately gave money — “voluntarily” — to the owner of the gas station to repair the alleged damages. Asked if the use of a gun could have been seen by the swimmers as an extortion attempt, da Silva Veloso said “For now, there’s nothing that indicates this.”
Lochte described the alleged robbery to NBC’s “Today” show Sunday.
“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over,” Lochte said. “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground, and they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so, I’m not getting down on the ground.
“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and 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.”
NBC reported Wednesday night that Lochte backed off some of his earlier claims about the robbery. He now says the taxi wasn’t pulled over by men with a badge, but that they were robbed after stopping at a gas station, NBC reported. Lochte also said the assailant pointed a gun at him rather than putting it to his head.
But Lochte also said no one in law enforcement asked him to stay in the country for additional questioning and reportedly expressed surprise at the casual nature of authorities’ questioning.
But the group did not call police, authorities said, and officers began investigating once they saw media reports in which Lochte’s mother spoke about the robbery.
Police interviewed Lochte and Feigen, who said they had been intoxicated and could not remember what type and color of taxi they rode in or where the robbery happened, the police official said. The swimmers also could not say what time the events occurred.
Lochte told USA Today that he and his teammates didn’t initially tell U.S. Olympic officials about the robbery “because we were afraid we’d get in trouble.”