American swimmer Ryan Lochte released a statement Friday apologizing for an alleged robbery of American swimmers — and their ever-changing descriptions of it.
The statement was released after Lochte’s teammates Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger landed in Miami after being pulled off a plane a day earlier to testify about the alleged robbery. Alos, the lawyer for the fourth U.S. swimmer, James Feigen, said he would make a $10,800 payment and leave Brazil later in the day.
“I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend — for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics,” Lochte’s statement read. “I waited to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.”
The rapid-fire developments early Friday came hours after police announced that Lochte and three of his teammates had not been held at gunpoint after a night of partying, as he claimed. Instead, Brazilian police said the men, while intoxicated, vandalized a gas station bathroom and were questioned by armed guards before they paid for the damage and left.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the hosts of this great event,” Lochte’s statement continued. “I am very proud to represent my country in Olympic competition and this was a situation that could and should have been avoided. I accept responsibility for my role in this happening and have learned some valuable lessons.
“I am grateful for my USA Swimming teammates and the USOC, and appreciate all of the efforts of the IOC, the Rio ’16 host committee, and the people of Brazil who welcomed us to Rio and worked so hard to make sure that these Olympic Games provided a lifetime of great new memories. There has already been too much said and too many valuable resources dedicated to what happened last weekend, so I hope we spend our time celebrating the great stories and performances of these Games and look ahead to celebrating future successes.”
The saga was an enormous embarrassment for the U.S. Olympic team, which had otherwise dominated the games. It also deeply wounded a country eager to prove it could host the first Games in Latin America despite concerns it could not keep athletes and spectators safe from rampant street crime.
“No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed,” civil police chief Fernando Veloso told a news conference.
As two of the swimmers, Bentz and Conger, were whisked through airport security and onto a plane home Thursday night from Rio de Janeiro, their attorney insisted they had nothing to do with Lochte’s story. Lochte himself left the country earlier this week.
Bentz and Conger, who arrived at Miami International Airport around 6:30 a.m. on Friday, “were heard only as witnesses. This has to be made very, very clear,” lawyer Sergio Riera told The Associated Press. “They did not make any untruthful testimony. They did not lie in their statements.”
A lawyer for another swimmer, James Feigen, said early Friday that the athlete had reached an agreement with a judge in which he planned to donate 35,000 Brazilian reals ($10,800) to an “institution” and leave the country later in the day.
Attorney Breno Melaragno said under the agreement, Feigen will make the donation, get his passport back and depart.
Melaragno did not specify where the money will go, but his use of the term “institution” can be taken to mean a charity. He said that under Brazilian law, a donation can be made to avoid criminal prosecution for minor offenses, but he did not say which charge was being contemplated.
Although police appear mostly finished with their probe, the case may be far from settled. Police have said they are considering charges of falsely reporting a crime and destruction of property, both of which can carry up to six months in jail or a fine.
Lochte’s attorney has insisted the story wasn’t made up — but neither he nor Lochte commented on the police account after it unfolded.
The saga began when Lochte said he and Conger, Bentz and Feigen were held at gunpoint and robbed several hours after the last Olympic swimming races ended. That claim began to unravel when police said that investigators could not find evidence to substantiate it.
Then security video reviewed by police confirmed that the athletes vandalized parts of the gas station, leading to an encounter with station employees.
The video shows one of the swimmers pulling a sign off 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, and their cab leaves. In another sequence, the swimmers appear to briefly raise their hands while talking to someone and sit down on a curb.
After a few minutes, the swimmers stand up and appear to exchange something — perhaps cash, as police said — with one of the men.
The footage doesn’t show a weapon, but a police official speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing said two guards 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.”
A station employee called police, and the guards and employees tried to get the swimmers and the taxi driver to stay until authorities arrived, some even offering to help interpret between English and Portuguese, Veloso said. But he said the athletes wanted to leave, so they paid 100 Brazilian reals (about US $33) and $20 in U.S. currency and left.
Police said the swimmers had been unable to provide key details in early interviews, saying they had been intoxicated. The police official said officers grew suspicious when security video showed the swimmers returning to the athletes village wearing watches, which would have likely been taken in a robbery.
Bentz and Conger told police that they felt Lochte had lied about the situation in media interviews, according to text of the statements released by Rio police.
“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 told NBC’s “Today” the morning after the incident. “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — 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.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.