With the 2016 Summer Olympics just wrapped up, we can look back at these Olympics and all the medals we won and feel very proud of our athletes. Ultimately we walked away from Rio with 121 medals, the most of any country. But there is one single event that has marred the Olympics and has brought our nation great shame, and it had nothing to do with the competition.
Four Olympians were out until approximately 6 a.m. when they stumbled into a gas station drunk to use their restroom. The four men were all members of the U.S. Swimming Olympic team – Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and the most famous, Ryan Lochte. According to Lochte, who gave TV interviews after the alleged incident, the four men were robbed and held at gunpoint by men dressed as police.
In reality, the men tried to break into a bathroom at the gas station. When they weren’t allowed access, one or more of the men vandalized the facility and caused damage. An armed security guard at the station demanded that the swimmers pay for the damage. The security guard did pull his gun when one of the athletes appeared “disturbed somehow.” The swimmers paid $20 dollars for the damage they caused before leaving.
Lochte fled Rio before a warrant was issued for his arrest, but the other three were not so lucky. Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were pulled from their plane for interrogation, but were later allowed to leave Brazil. The reason? The two swimmers had not lied to police about the alleged robbery. Further, they never spoke to the press to corroborate Lochte’s bogus story.
Jimmy Feigen, however, was ordered by a Brazilian judge to pay a Brazilian charity $10,800 to avoid charges for making false claims about the armed robbery. Brazilian law permits charitable donations to avoid criminal prosecution for minor offenses. Ryan Lochte has recently been charged with filing a false report, but has yet to face any repercussions.
Given Feigen and Lochte’s also allegedly false statements made regarding the incident, did they get off too easily?
White Male Privilege?
It pays to be a white male athlete from an elite swimming program if you commit a crime. Nothing exemplifies this more than the case of Brock Turner, who was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster at a party. The maximum sentence for his crime is 14 years in prison. He was only sentenced to a mere six months.
It is unclear what the sentence is for filing a false report in Brazil, but Lochte will likely be ordered by a Brazilian judge to pay tens of thousands of dollars to a Brazilian charity to avoid criminal prosecution. No such “get out of jail free” equivalent exists in the U.S. judicial system, although some argue that being a white male is the equivalent.
Making false statements to federal agencies is a federal crime. One cannot knowingly and willfully making false or fraudulent statements or conceal information with the intent to defraud. If a false statement is made to a police officer, a person could also be charged with obstruction of justice. Filing a false statement can result in misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the state. Misdemeanors result in jail time of less than one year and may involve small fines, whereas felony charges can result in imprisonment for over one year and can involve heavier monetary fines.
Here, Lochte and Feigen were allegedly intoxicated and may have been drunk while making the false statements. Believe it or not, this can be a defense to a false statement because it negates the intent element of making false statements.
Because neither Lochte nor Feigen will be prosecuted in the United States, it’s unknown what, if any, repercussions they would have faced stateside. If we look at judicial history, the judge who heard Brock Turner’s case gave him such a light sentence because Turner, age 19 at the time of the crime, had no criminal history. The judge further brushed off the incident as an act of “youthful indiscretion.” Lochte, age 32, and Feigen, age 26, cannot argue the same defense. Nevertheless, neither appears to have a criminal record and they were both members of the most elite swimming organization. That may be enough for the American equivalent of a “get out of jail free” card.
Authored by Erin Chan-Adams, Legal Match Legal Writer and Attorney at Law