Blame It On The Bossa Nova: Lochte and Brazilian Police

The travails of the Ryan Lochte gang of American Swimmers has been playing out for a full week now. The result has been almost universal scorn, if not hatred, for Lochte et. al, and almost complete credulous acceptance of the somewhat dubious, if extremely strident, pushback and claims of the Brazilian Police.

Frankly, neither side’s story ever sat quite right with me. But Lochte’s story, among other exaggeration/fabrication, always, from the start, indicated that the swimmers were pulled from a taxi at gun point, by people in uniform with badges, who pointed guns at them, and took money from them.

And then came the dog and pony show press conference staged by the Brazilian Police for a worldwide audience during mid-day on Thursday August 18. It was a bizarre and rambling presser, that was nearly comical in its staging during its opening portion. It did, however, make clear that there was a lot more to the full story than Lochte had told, and that some of his story was flat wrong. But, if you listened carefully, as I am wont to do with cops making self serving statements, it, along with previous statements made by the police, also pretty much confirmed the swimmers were pulled from a taxi at gun point, by people in uniform with badges, who pointed guns at them, and took money from them.

So, then the question was what “crimes” and/or “vandalism” had Lochte and the swimmers really caused? There was an early news crew, I think NBC, that went to the site and did not really find all that much damage. As the statements by both Lochte and the other swimmers, notably Gunnar Bentz, came out, it was clear that there was a real question as to what, if any, real damage was done. And a question of who engaged in exactly what criminal behavior at that gas station in the early morning of August 15.

Well, now it is starting to come out. And, as expected, the Brazilians have ginned up every bit as much “over-exaggeration” as Ryan Lochte. From today’s USA Today Investigative Team of Taylor Barnes and David Meeks, which confirms some of the work previously seen from (again, I believe) NBC. It is a pretty thorough and convincing report:

But a narrative of the night’s events – constructed by USA TODAY Sports from witness statements, official investigations, surveillance videos and media reports – supports Lochte’s later account in which he said that he thought the swimmers were being robbed when they were approached at a gas station by armed men who flashed badges, pointed guns at them and demanded money.

A Brazilian judge says police might have been hasty in determining that the security guards who drew guns on the swimmers and demanded money did not commit a robbery. A lawyer who has practiced in Brazil for 25 years says she does not think the actions of Lochte and teammate Jimmy Feigen constitute the filing of a false police report as defined under Brazilian law.

An extensive review of surveillance footage by a USA TODAY Sports videographer who also visited the gas station supports swimmer Gunnar Bentz’s claim that he did not see anyone vandalize the restroom, an allegation that in particular heightened media portrayals of the four as obnoxious Americans behaving recklessly in a foreign country. Meanwhile, Rio authorities have declined to identify the guards or offer any details beyond confirming they are members of law enforcement who were working a private security detail.

Now, we can’t compare that with everything the Brazilian police have, because they have been hiding a lot of their material and, apparently, misrepresenting substantial portions of it from the start. But everything within the USA Today piece corresponds with the various videos obtained by the various media outlets, whether Brazilian, American or international, and corresponds with Gunnar Bentz’s statement, which nobody, even, quite notably the Brazilians, including police, seems to contest in the least.

In short, the overall picture of the incident seems to be bigger and more complex, with some outrageous conduct by not just the American swimmers, but also, and substantially, the Brazilians. Oh, and about that “bathroom trashing damage”? That appears to be vapor too:

At a news conference Thursday, Rio police chief Fernando Veloso characterized the athletes’ actions at the gas station as vandalism. He said they also had broken a soap dispenser and mirror inside the restroom. Reports quickly grew that the Americans had trashed the restroom.

A USA TODAY Sports videographer who visited the bathroom Thursday 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.

Bentz said in his statement that he believes there are surveillance videos shot from different angles that have not been released. He also said he did not see anyone damage the bathroom or even enter it.

Oh, and that much ballyhooed “sign” supposedly damaged? Reports are that it was a minor crack in a cheap plastic cover and that the swimmers were made to pay out somewhere between $100 to $400 to cover what appears to be mostly ginned up nonsense. Additionally, irrespective of what the “security guards” extracted from the swimmers at gunpoint, swimmer James Feigan was made to pay the amount of $11,000 as a “donation” simply in order to leave the country and return home. That is not a “donation”, that is a flat out outrageous extortion demand and payment extracted by Brazilian authorities.

I wonder what bloviating sports columnists so full of righteous outrage and apologia will say now? Brazil is to be commended for putting on a great Olympics, and doing so under difficult constraints and conditions. But for the green pools (that affected nothing in the long run), they really pulled off a fantastic, admirable and beautiful show. Even the rain did not phase or slow down the glorious closing ceremonies Sunday night.

But one point on which Brazilian authorities “over-exaggerated”, overreacted, and failed to acquit themselves well on was in relation to the randy American swimmers. According to the USA Today report, even judges in Rio are wondering if they were hoodwinked in the rush of outrage by the authorities.

The distress of the Brazilian authorities over the emerging story from the swimmers is perfectly understandable given the dynamics. But, if an international scandal was created by this incident, it appears as if it is every bit as much the fault of the Brazilan police and authorities as it is the American swimmers.

It took two for this little tango.

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.
11 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    It is always a risk in the Third World to have to deal with factions and petty shakedowns. The Brazilian police already had a poor reputation with respect to being law-abiding, and just before the Games had pointedly threatened to walk off the job unless paid off. Think of asset forfeiture as a policy at the watch level, and this is what you would get. The shakedown is frequently what one sees, I’d have to deal with it on occasion with my sailors even with the SOFA in effect, and in some cases nothing could be done. It’s not the USA, and the police were looking for something like this to buff up their image as well. We’re lucky our guys weren’t shot. Giving away $10,800 as a bribe might also be a problem here, since the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is in force and appears to apply here. Perhaps our resident lawyers could weigh in on that, and whether USOC will have some ‘splainin’ to do.
    *
    However, with that being said, I am also quite certain the USOC made it very clear to the team (including Lochte) that Rio is in Brazil, not the USA, and I would speculate everything outside of the Olympic village was made out of bounds unless on a tour or in transit to a venue. Lochte (at 32) should have been the adult in the car, but was not and proceeded to blame his younger teammates. I see that he’s lost Speedo as an endorser, so I think that will finish him on the news cycle.
    *
    Mark Twain: You can make something foolproof, but not damn-foolproof.
    *
    Trashed bathroom = broken taillight = cigarette damage to carpets => the reason du jour for a shakedown. Have the videos of the “After” state been posted? Even with this, in a week it will no longer be news.

    • bmaz says:

      Yeah, two different news crews have been to and through the bathroom, and neither found any evidence whatsoever of recent damage, whether to the door, mirror or soap holder. In fact, it just looked like a typical filthy gas station restroom, that had seen its best days long, long ago. As to the “ad poster”, look at the TMZ link in the post. The “damage” is almost laughable.
      .
      All that said, they really were dunk lunkheads out on a ramble in a foreign land, and should have been far more careful. They, especially Lochte, are due some bumps and bruises, I just think the relative amount is WAY out of control in relation to the outrageous and dishonest actions of high level Brazilian police in playing this up to self serve their interests.

  2. greengiant says:

    The average US comment poster and the worldwide media seem to have gone for the Brazilian PR release Lochte the villian hook line and sinker.

  3. martin says:

    Fuck the current narrative. I’ll take Eydie any day. :) Like emptywheel says on many twitter rants…” I’m so old I remember…..” , in this case, Eydie Gormet’s recordings”. They were always a contrast on Top 40 radio formats, but still within the realm of interesting music. Thanks for the link bmaz.

    As for the current post..I’m not a sports fan, so I’ll leave that to you all who are.

  4. RUKidding says:

    Interesting. I wondered about this vis a vis corruption of Brazilian police. I’ve traveled extensively, although not to Brazil. One thing one learns quickly is to keep a low profile in any foreign country, but especially so in places like Brazil where the police aren’t known for being on the up and up.
    **
    When I first heard the story, I figured that the crew as drunk (probably true) and got themselves in a sticky situation, which went south. Then news stories came out about trashed rest rooms and so forth. Having to pay almost $11k on the spot for an alleged trashed gas station rest room soundy distinctly fishy to me. But the USA media and arm chair commenters dutifully piled on. Lochte was an entitled spoiled brat idiot, etc.
    **
    Now it comes out that the Rio PD were probably behind this shake down and took advantage of the situation of some stupidly drunk Olympic atheletes. But then try to scurry around jusitifying their crooked behavior.
    **
    Not surprised. This type of thing does happen, unfortunately, to some travelers in foreign countries. If one reads “how to” travel literature or travel guides, most/all are emphatic about telling travelers not to get drunk and stupid in foreign lands for this very reason. Well you can be taken advantage of here in the USA, too. But it’s more difficult and scarier when abroad and when you can’t trust the PD.
    **
    Too bad. Coulda shoulda woulda. Lochte had to learn his lesson the hard way.

    • bmaz says:

      In a nutshell, my best current understanding is that it was not actual cops (on or off duty) that put the pinch on the swimmers, but some kind of quasi-cops like off duty prison or jail guards, but that were official looking and did have guns and badges. Obviously, that may change yet again, but that seems to be the best take to date. Bottom line is, probably easy to see how foreigners could see them as official law enforcement given the circumstances.
      .
      Also, the $11,000 (was actually $10,700 it seems) that was paid by Jimmy Feigan was not paid on the spot, but was agreed to be paid by him a couple of days later so that he would be released to leave the country. The “on the spot” payment in the early morning in question appears to have been between $50 and $400. I have not seen a definitive sum, and part of the problem seems to be that it was paid in at least two, maybe three, different currencies combined. But all media investigating seem unanimous that there was no Bathroom damage, but that there was a bit of urinating behind the place and, ultimately, a scratch to a plastic cover to a wall poster advertising a sandwich. The poster may, or may not, have ended up on the ground at one point, but that seems to be the final result. That too is from early media that went to the scene, but I have seen nothing to dispute it.
      .
      The main problem seems to be not that the gas station and its rent a cop security guards thought they were out anything, but that Lochte and the swimmers thought they were held up at gunpoint relative to what had happened as to any actual damage he/they had done. Given the language barrier etc, that may have been a reasonable take.

  5. pdaly says:

    Well, I certainly hope Matt Lauer doesn’t feel as aggrieved about Brazilian authorities embellishing the truth (bathroom not trashed? poster not that much damaged?) as he did when he cornered Ryan Locate in the on camera interview.
    .
    See Matt (Caesar Flickerman) Lauer “explain” to Ryan what REALLY happened. ‘A negotiated settlement, NOT a robbery’ Just ignore the fact that the settlement is being “negotiated” at the end of a barrel of a gun. Ignore the fact that there is no obvious vandalism to the bathrooms to require a settlement in the first place.
    .
    from http://nbcsportsgrouppressbox.com/2016/08/20/transcript-matt-lauer-exclusive-interview-with-ryan-lochte/
    .
    Matt Lauer: “You told me on the phone, Ryan, you said, ‘We are victims here. We are victims. And we’re happy that we’re safe.’ In the police press conference, they said, ‘Not victims. They’re vandals.’ How do you feel about that?”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “It’s how you want to – it’s how you want to make look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like we don’t know. All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “And that’s a really interesting point. I want to take a little time on this. If I were to ask you the same question again right now and say, ‘Were you robbed on Sunday morning in Rio?’ how would you answer it?”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “I can’t answer that, because I don’t know if – I was intoxicated. So I don’t know. All I know is that there was a gun pointed at us, and we were demanded to give money. Whether it was to pay for the damages of the poster, whether it was extortion, or whether it was a robbery, like, I can’t – I’m not equipped to…”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “Except I want to point out that Gunner in his statement to police said at some point, someone who spoke English walked over and offered to help translate this altercation. And he made it clear that the security guard was telling the four of you, ‘You need to pay for that stuff, that damage before you can leave here, or I’m going to call the police.’ You understood that at that time, didn’t you?”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “Yeah. So then we had to give the money.”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “Right. But at that point, it’s not a robbery. At that point, you’re striking a deal. You’re striking a deal to pay for what damage you’ve caused so that he doesn’t call the police and this doesn’t become a bigger incident. Isn’t that– isn’t that fair?”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “We just wanted to get out of there. We were held – I mean, there was as gun pointed in our direction. We were all frightened. And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we knew is this guy saying, ‘You have to give him money.’ So we gave him money, and we got out.”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “That doesn’t sound like a robbery. A robbery is when some guy targets you, whether he’s armed or not, to take your money, and your belongings, and your valuables. This guy was negotiating a deal because of what had happened in that walkway. And you guys were on the other end of that negotiation.”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “And that’s why it could be – people can see it in many different directions. All we know is that there was a gun pointed to us and we were demanded to give him money. And end of story.”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “I guess what I’m trying to get at is the first version of the story you told, Ryan, was much more about the mean streets of Rio.”
    .
    Ryan Lochte: “Yeah.”
    .
    Matt Lauer: “And the version we’re hearing now is much more about a negotiated settlement to cover up some dumb behavior.”

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