MISSOULA, Mont. — A 22-year-old openly gay Montana man who reported he was the victim of an alleged hate crime fabricated the attack, and has pleaded guilty to charges of filing a false police report.
Billings, Mont., resident Joseph Baken on Tuesday was sentenced to 180 days in jail and a $300 fine, with the jail time suspended.
A spokesperson for the Missoula Police Department told local media that the department had developed new information regarding the alleged hate crime which led investigators to charge Baken late Monday.
Baken told the MPD investigators that during the early morning hours of August 5 as he was celebrating his 22nd birthday, he approached three men in a club asking where could find a local gay bar, and after being invited outside to have a cigarette with one of the men, he was attacked and beaten, reported the Missoula Independent.
In the hours after the alleged incident, word spread via social media including a Facebook page “Wipe Out Homophobia,” which identified Baken only by his first name of Joesph.
The page went on to report that Baken’s assailants hurled anti-gay epithets such as “faggot,” during the attack.
“Nobody deserves this, especially not just because of your sexuality,” the page’s organizers wrote. There was also a picture of Baken taken (above, right) immediately after the alleged attack, according to the page’s creators.
But the story began to fall apart after the Missoula Independent and MPD investigators obtained video footage that showed Baken doing a backflip on a local street, sustaining the injuries — lacerations to his face — that were depicted on social media sites.
D Gregory Smith, a local licensed mental health counselor, LGBT activist, and Executive Director of AIDS Outreach, a Bozeman, Mont.-based HIV testing service, said he was angered by the false report.
“Yeah, I’m angry. I think this may have set things back a bit as far as people taking the threat to LGBTQ people seriously in the state of Montana,” Smith told LGBTQ Nation. “When someone needs the help of the police because they have been a victim of gay assault, will it be met with deep suspicion and possibly a sneer?”
“I’m also really worried about the kid who reported the whole thing,” he added.
“I’m worried that this will ruin his life. I’m worried that this decision to report — however it was made — was possibly made under the influence. Bad decisions are made every day under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Smith said he’s also worried the that LGBT community that so quickly rallied around Baken “will turn just as quickly against him.”
Baken was unavailable for comment Wednesday.