NEW: Gunnar Bentz says armed guards wanted money after swimmers urinated behind building
Ryan Lochte concedes he should have been "more responsible"
One of the US swimmers involved in an controversial incident at a Rio de Janeiro gas station said Friday that men with badges pulled guns on them and ordered them to pay money in order to leave the scene.
Bentz’s statement describes how Lochte, a 12-time medalist who initially said the swimmers were robbed, was the member of the group who damaged property and argued with armed men who appeared to be security guards.
Bentz said the swimmers had been ordered out of a cab and were sitting on a curb as the security guards held their guns when Lochte stood up and got into a heated argument with the guards.
A man who spoke English and Portuguese – Bentz thinks he was a customer – offered to translate. The man told the Americans they needed to pay the guards in order to leave.
“I gave them what I had in my wallet, which was a $20 bill, and Jimmy gave them 100 reals, which is about $50 in total,” Bentz said.
The guards lowered their guns and the swimmers left, walking down the street to find another cab to take them back to the Olympic Village.
Bentz, in a statement released by the University of Georgia, where he is a rising junior, said the swimmers had stopped at the store to use the bathroom. Lochte had pulled a metal advertising sign off a wall as the quartet of swimmers urinated behind the gas station, he said, but there was no damage to a bathroom or its door, which was locked.
The swimmers were trying to leave in a cab when two security guards ordered them out of a cab. Bentz said that as Jack Conger and James Feigen walked away from the car a man held up a badge and pulled a gun on the Americans.
“I yelled to them to come back toward us and they complied,” he said. “Then the second guard drew his weapon and both guards pointed their guns at us and yelled at us to sit on a nearby sidewalk.”
In his statement, Bentz apologized to US officials, his teammates and his university.
Bentz also said the guards put down their guns after being paid.
Earlier this week, Lochte said on Twitter and in a television interview with Olympics broadcaster NBC that the four swimmers were robbed after getting out of the cab.
The case quickly spiraled into an international matter involving consular officials, lawyers and judicial orders. Police accused the swimmers of fabricating the robbery story and being involved in vandalism. Authorities brought three of them in for questioning, Bentz and Conger having been pulled off a plane bound for the United States. Lochte had already returned to the United States by the time police began their investigation.
Bentz said Friday he never made a false statement to anyone, he said. He characterized his interaction with investigators as being a witness.
We were robbed, Lochte said at first
Lochte originally said that he and fellow swimmers were pulled over in their taxi and robbed at gunpoint early Sunday.
“I wanted to apologize for my behavior last weekend – for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics,” he said Friday on Instagram.
He said he accepted responsibility for his role in the case and had “learned some valuable lessons.”
CNN contributor Christine Brennan reported Friday that Lochte will eventually be suspended, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
When asked for a comment, USA Swimming told CNN to refer to its latest statement which reads, “USA Swimming will undergo a thorough review of the incident and determine any further actions, per our Code of Conduct.”
CNN also reached out to the US Olympic Committee, which referred to a statement issued Thursday night that said the organization will “further review the matter, and any potential consequences for the athletes, when we return to the United States.”
Lochte also did not, however, roll back on his allegations the swimmers had been robbed at gunpoint by men posing as police.
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Police said that security guards used guns to control the athletes, adding that the Americans were drunk, and took 100 reals ($20) to cover the damage the men caused.
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country – with a language barrier – and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave,” Lochte said on Instagram.
“I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the hosts of this great event. I am very proud to represent my country in Olympic competition and this was a situation that could and should have been avoided.”
The public had awaited Lochte’s response after the release of closed-circuit TV footage Thursday that appeared to support at least some of the police’s assertions.
Lochte omitted details that led up to what he called a robbery, some of which appeared in the video footage.
But his apology and the video still do not clear up the biggest question – were the swimmers robbed?
Lochte, Bentz and police do all agree on one thing: A gun was brandished, and money exchanged hands.
The stories, however, seem to diverge at a single point – when Lochte re-entered a taxi after stopping at the station.
Swimmer donates $11,000 to charity
On Wednesday night, authorities took the extraordinary step of pulling Conger and Bentz from their flight home for questioning. The pair flew to Miami on Friday morning. Bentz returned to Atlanta later in the day and didn’t answer questions from reporters at the airport.
Police said in a statement on Facebook that that Feigen had agreed to make a contribution of 35,000 reals (nearly $11,000) to a Brazilian charity organization.
The decision was made, police said, in a court appearancse to answer accusations that the swimmers had made false claims they were robbed.
US Olympic Committee apologizes
The US Olympic Committee’s earlier statement also apologized for the athletes’ behavior after the video footage came to light.
“On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, we apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence,” a committee statement said.
The statement said that an “argument ensued between the athletes and two armed gas station security staff, who displayed their weapons, ordered the athletes from their vehicle and demanded the athletes provide a monetary payment. Once the security officials received money from the athletes, the athletes were allowed to leave.”
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said Friday he felt “pity and contempt” for the swimmers, saying he accepted the US committee’s apology.
“I believe that all of us need to accept the apologies of the US Olympic Committee, the same way our Olympic Committee would have had to apologize if the assault had occurred. The apologies have been more than accepted,” he said.
Charges unlikely, police say
Lochte’s attorney, Jeff Ostrow, said the incident still amounted to a robbery and the new information and video did not change that view.
The police early on appeared to have doubts about the 32-year-old swimmer’s veracity.
First, they learned on social media that four Americans had reportedly been mugged – a story Lochte told in hair-raising detail to the US media – civil police Chief Fernando Veloso said at a news conference Thursday.
They tracked down witnesses, including three of Lochte’s fellow swimmers at the scene, reviewed surveillance tapes and made a ruling on whether the accounts looked or sounded like a robbery.
“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.”
Veloso said the other swimmers say it was Lochte who created the lie. “The only person that continues to say there was a robbery is (Lochte),” he said after the news conference.
The investigation showed security guards stopped the athletes from leaving the station until police could be called. One pulled a gun on Lochte after he became angrily confrontational, Veloso said.
But Veloso insisted there was no evidence the guard’s actions were unreasonable.
Bentz’s high school coach: He’s handling it well
Atlanta-based swimming coach Jason Turcotte, who trained Bentz in high school at the Dynamo Swim Club, said he and his swimmers have continued to support the embattled Olympian medalist throughout what he believes is a scandal that has been blown out of proportion.
Turcotte said the 20-year-old swimmer, who won a gold medal in the men’s 4x200-meter freestyle relay, handled the kerfuffle well ever since he and Conger were removed from a plane. According to Turcotte, Bentz fully cooperated with Rio authorities when asked to provide testimony, where he said that he was not robbed.
He added: “We’re not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, but once you make a mistake, then the clock starts with how you handle it. In a sea of drama, he handled it pretty well, and now he’s home.”
CNN’s Marilia Brocchetto wrote and reported from Rio de Janeiro, while CNN’s Joshua Berlinger reported and wrote from Hong Kong, Steve Almasy wrote in Atlanta and journalist Angela Dewan wrote from London. CNN’s Flora Charner, Nick Paton Walsh, Jill Martin, Steve Visser, Cynde Strand, Ryan Browne, Tim Langmaid, Max Blau, Richard Allen Greene and journalist Claire Rigby contrib