The American swimmers who claimed they were assaulted at gunpoint over the weekend by assailants posing as police officers fabricated their account of the episode, according to Brazilian investigators.
After watching video and hearing testimony from witnesses, the Brazilian police have determined the incident involved damage to a bathroom door at a gas station where the swimmers stopped in the early hours Sunday on the way back to the athletes’ village from a party.
A Brazilian police official who had reviewed the video images said that there had been no armed assault, contrary to what the swimmers had claimed. The official declined to be identified because the investigation was continuing.
The case made global headlines after the Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte claimed that men posing as police officers had pulled over their taxi and that an assailant had put a cocked gun to his forehead before taking his money. He later altered his account, saying the taxi stopped at a gas station so they could use the bathroom.
A different description of events is emerging from Brazilian authorities on Thursday. Officials say the taxi carrying the swimmers stopped at a Shell gas station about 6 a.m., shortly after the men exited a party at Club France, an Olympic hospitality house established here in the upscale Lagoa district.
At the gas station, which is in Barra da Tijuca, on the route to the athletes’ village, the swimmers went to the bathroom. In the process, according to the account by investigators, damage was done to the bathroom door and a discussion ensued with the manager and a security guard.
Someone at the gas station called the police, but by the time a police car arrived at the scene, the swimmers were gone. Witnesses, including a person who offered to translate for the swimmers, said that they paid money to the manager before leaving..
Beyond the simmering debate over the accounts by the swimmers, the episode has spiraled into a thorny legal case testing the relations between Brazil and the United States, the two largest countries in the Americas.
Judges ordered the swimmers to stay in the country and surrender their passports over doubts about their testimony, but Lochte had already left and the United States Olympic Committee would not give up their locations. Then the police pulled two of the swimmers off their plane on Wednesday night, and said they needed to remain in the country as the investigation unfolds.
The episode has also touched on sensitive issues of sovereignty and nationalism around the Rio Olympics, while focusing enormous scrutiny on the perceptions of danger in a society where many Brazilians themselves often lament their exposure to alarming levels of violent crime and police corruption.
“This incident has caused so much damage to Rio’s brand abroad that I think Brazilians deserve a clear, consistent account of what happened,” said Brian Winter, vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
The entire episode, Winter said, “has tapped into one of Brazilians’ biggest pet peeves — gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it.”