Tuesday, August 23, 2016

GateHouse: In Rio: The crime of the century?

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
August 19, 2016

Last week, Ryan Lochte faced off against his teammate and friend Michael Phelps in the 200 meter medley. Phelps is the most decorated athlete in Olympic history. Lochte is no slouch, but he has toiled in the shadow of Phelps his entire career.

This race was going to be different. Lochte is the world record holder in the 200 medley. Phelps was vulnerable and Lochte was going to go out with a bang. Not only did Lochte fail to beat Phelps — he didn’t even win a medal coming in fourth behind Kosuke Hagino of Japan and Wang Shun of China.

So who could blame Lochte if he went out Saturday night to blow off some steam? What happened next rocked the Rio games and will cast a shadow over Lochte and the entire men’s swimming team.

The U.S. Olympic swim team had unprecedented moments of accomplishment. Phelps and Katie Ledecky were brilliant. The team won 19 gold medals and 33 medals overall. However, as the Rio games wind down the Lochte investigation has dominated the headlines, and according to the Washington Post, even the Rio 2016 organizers seem to wish it would simply go away.

Lochte, along with teammates James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz apparently fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro. The story began to unravel when Brazilian authorities — sensitive to their country’s reputation for crime, violence and murder — began to investigate the alleged robbery.

Brazil should be sensitive when it comes to their reputation, a new report out this month has Brazilian cities dominating a list of the 50 murder capitals of the world, according to Forbes.

The report by Mexico City based Center for Public Security and Criminal Justice shows clearly that no country in the world has more cities plagued by violent crime than Brazil.

Yet Rio’s finest spent the better part of a week trying to refute an alleged robbery. The authorities went so far as to pull the passports of three of the athletes as they attempted to return to the United States.

Lochte and his teammates’ conduct should not be applauded or ignored. As the Washington Post put it, “Is there anything worse, in any country, than a bunch of entitled young drunks who break the furniture and pee on a wall?”

At a triumphant press conference yesterday, Civil Police chief Fernando Veloso rolled out his week long investigation. He suggested this was not a case of robbery it was a case of vandalism. The athletes were not robbed at gun point they were merely made to pay restitution for the vandalism at gun point.

“The surveillance tapes show that there was no violence against the athletes at the gas station,” Veloso said. “Their claim that they are a victim of an assault or robbery or any kind of violence is not true.”

He said the athletes could face potential charges including false communication of a crime and damaging private assets, those charges were unlikely because the athletes had paid for the damages that night — at gun point — and the owner of the gas station was not pressing charges, reported CNN.

“This kind of crime will not lead to their arrest,” Veloso said. Last night, Lochte and Feigen were indicted.

While this absurd investigation rolls on, how about the athlete from Great Britain who was robbed or the Australian athletes robbed after a fire drill or the athlete robbed by an Olympic village worker. Could the resources used to investigate the false report have been better spent on investigating these violent crimes?

Should the murder capital of the world be so invested in setting the record straight on a false report punishable by, at most, six months in jail? This has become nothing more than PR by the Rio PD.

The only sanity emanating from Rio came from a Rio 2016 spokesperson who tried to make light of the case.
“These kids tried to have fun, they tried to represent their country to the best of their abilities,” Mario Andrada told the BBC. “They competed under gigantic pressure. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometime you take actions that you later regret.

“They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.

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