A year ago, Ryan Lochte found himself embroiled in a captivating international controversy at the Rio Olympics. It was all a self-inflicted wound in the end for Lochte, all because he lied to his mom and his mom ran to the media and everything snowballed from there. The gist is that Lochte and two other American swimmers vandalized a gas station in Rio while they were drunk and heading back to the Olympic village after a party. The actual vandalization is still being debated – some say that Lochte destroyed a bathroom, some say he only ripped down a poster. Armed security – not police, but security – held Lochte and the swimmers at gunpoint, shaking them down for money for “damages.” Lochte lied about the confrontation to his mom, then he lied about it in an interview with Billy Bush. The Brazilian authorities opened a case against Lochte for vandalism and making false statements (false statements to his mom and NBC, no joke) and the whole thing just got completely crazy. Anyway, there were still some legal issues pending in Brazil, but a Brazilian appellate court just threw the case out. Lochte is FREE.
An appellate court in Brazil has dismissed a criminal case against U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte, concluding that Lochte did not break the law in exaggerating the details of an incident at a gas station during the Rio Olympics in August. Lochte had been charged with falsely communicating a crime to authorities after he gave an interview to NBC in which he said he and three other members of the U.S. swim team had been stopped and robbed at gunpoint as the cab they were in tried to pull away from the service station. Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen had been out celebrating after the conclusion of the swimming competition at the Rio Games.
The swimmers, who were returning to the Olympic Village from a party, stopped at the Shell gas station to use the restroom. Days later, Rio police held a news conference and said the athletes had vandalized the restroom, breaking a soap dispenser and mirror, as well as destroying a poster outside the bathroom. Police concluded that the swimmers had lied and there had been no crime committed against them, prompting outrage against Lochte in media accounts around the world.
Feigen was subsequently detained by police and agreed to pay a fine so that he could leave Brazil, but Lochte, who already had departed, stood by his story. His lawyers in the U.S. and Brazil moved to have the case dismissed, but a three-judge panel in a lower court ruled 2-1 that the charge was legitimate. An appeals court on Thursday reversed that decision, 2-1, ruling that Brazilian law was not broken because Rio police had initiated the investigation, not Lochte. Whatever Lochte said in the interview with NBC did not constitute a false report, the court concluded. The decision has not yet been published and prosecutors have 15 days to decide whether they will challenge the ruling.
“We are pleased that the court has finally dismissed the criminal prosecution against Mr. Lochte, while at the same time, appropriately recognizing that he committed no crime. It has been a long year, but in the end, justice prevailed,” said Jeff Ostrow, Lochte’s Florida-based attorney, in a statement to USA TODAY Sports on Friday.
Lochte was pilloried for days and lost sponsors after Rio police asserted his story was a fabrication – infamously claiming one of the assailants put a gun to his forehead — but a subsequent investigation by USA TODAY Sports found that, despite the embellishment, the framework of Lochte’s story was true. Video surveillance and witness accounts showed Lochte and his teammates had been detained by armed security guards, who drew their weapons and ordered the swimmers to pay money for alleged damage at the gas station. The USA TODAY investigation also found no evidence that the men had vandalized a bathroom at the gas station that night, as authorities had alleged.
The only damage caused by the swimmers at the gas station was the poster that Lochte knocked off a wall. Police and Bentz said that the swimmers paid $20 plus 100 Reais, which is about $33, for the poster.
I still have feelings about this, unpopular though those feelings might be. I think Lochte is an idiot, of course, and obviously he shouldn’t have lied/exaggerated to his mom and to NBC. But the whole situation got blown crazily out of proportion by the actions of the Brazilian authorities. I’m glad this appellate court pointed out the obvious, which is that “lying to your mommy” is not the same thing as making false statements to the police. Several news agencies investigated the Brazilian authorities’ claims and they found that the Brazilians’ exaggerated quite a bit too, as USA Today points out. So, an obvious end to the dumbest scandal of 2016.
Photos courtesy of WENN.