2 U.S. Swimmers Pulled Off Flight Home As Police Probe Robbery Claim
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right. Let's move now to some extraordinary news from Rio. Late last night, authorities in Brazil pulled two American swimmers off their flight back to the United States. Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz are being held for questioning in Brazil now. They were among four U.S. swimmers who say they were robbed at gunpoint by officers who stopped their taxi on Sunday evening. But these swimmers have given conflicting accounts. And let's try and sort this out with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro who's in Rio.
Lulu, good morning.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Good morning.
GREENE: How have we gotten to this news from last night?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I mean, it's a little bit convoluted. According to the initial statements, James Feigen and 12-time Olympics medalist Ryan Lochte he was with Bentz and Conger, the two swimmers who were taken off that flight. They said that they were at a party at the French hospitality house. It was really late. They had been drinking, and they hopped in a cab to get back to the Olympic Village, where they were staying. This is Ryan Lochte talking about it to NBC.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RYAN LOCHTE: These guys came out with a badge - a police badge - no lights, no nothing, just a police badge. They pulled us over. They pulled out their guns.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So he's saying there that police pulled them over. Then he said one of the men put a gun to his head. Lochte and the group did not report the assault to the police when it happened. Initially, you know, reports came out through Lochte's mom who had spoken to her son. Lochte said he hadn't told anyone else, hadn't told the authorities here because they thought they'd get in trouble.
GREENE: But now Brazilian authorities are questioning this version of events from them. Why is that?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You know, news of the assault, as you can imagine, caused a huge amount of attention globally. And the police went to go take statements from the group, and they started investigating. Police said pretty soon, they discovered some major discrepancies. First, there was video of the group arriving back to the Olympic village from security cameras. And it seemed to show them relaxed, joking, not necessarily looking like they had been the victims of an assault. Second - they also seemed to have some items that they said had been stolen in their possession in that camera footage.
And second, the timing seemed to be off. The swimmers said the robbery took place around 4 a.m., although they said that they were drunk and they couldn't really remember. But they were clocked in as returning back to the Olympic Village much, much later. So the police are saying they haven't been able to find the cab driver that was involved. They haven't found any evidence at all that this took place.
GREENE: OK, so - I mean, even if the Brazilian authorities are sort of curious or suspicious about what these Americans are saying, it is a huge deal to pull American Olympians off a plane and keep them in the country, right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, it is a huge deal. But in Brazil, giving false testimony about a crime is a crime in and of itself. And judges here have a lot of latitude - a lot. So the judge in this case asked for the group to have their passports taken while they are questioned further to determine what exactly happened. Lochte left the country, but the other three will now have to give further testimony to get to the bottom of this. Feigen - we don't know where he is, but we do understand that he will be talking to the authorities and he is in Brazil.
GREENE: I mean, however this plays out, Lulu, huge embarrassment, potentially, for not just one, but two countries here.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah and a great deal of consternation, you know. Here in Brazil, if you look on social media, there's a mixed reaction. You know, some are happy that the Brazilian authorities are getting to the bottom of this. They say that these group of swimmers, if they lied, caused enormous amounts of embarrassment to the host country of the Olympic Games, a host country that's been having a difficult Olympics. Others say that this is even worse. Now, this is, you know, potentially causing a major diplomatic incident between Brazil and the United States and that they should just allow these swimmers to go home.
GREENE: OK. Amazing story from last night in Brazil. That's NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro who's there covering the Olympics.
Lulu, thanks a lot.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.