Joseph Baken, seen here in a movie still from the 2011 film "Judas Kiss."
A 22-year-old man who claimed he was badly beaten outside a downtown Missoula, Mont., bar because he is gay actually sustained his facial injuries trying to do a backflip on a sidewalk, police say.
Joseph Baken of Billings, Mont., was charged with filing a false police report after a video obtained by police and the Missoula Independent newspaper cast doubt on his story.
On Tuesday, Baken pleaded guilty in Missoula Municipal Court to the false report charge. He was given a 180-day suspended jail sentence and fined $300, according to the Independent.
Baken initially reported to police that he was attacked early Sunday morning by three men outside the Missoula Club, where he said he had gone to celebrate his 22nd birthday, after asking patrons about the location of a gay bar, according to local media reports.
Pictures of his badly bruised face quickly circulated on the Internet and were displayed on the Wipe Out Homophobia Facebook page and other sites. Gay-rights activists expressed outrage at what they thought was a gay-bashing hate crime.
But Baken’s story began to fall apart after the Independent and the Missoula Police Department obtained what appears to be cellphone video footage that shows Baken trying to do a backflip on a sidewalk in Missoula. He falls short during the landing, smacking his face against the sidewalk.
“Video evidence taken by unidentified sources was examined and demonstrates that Joseph Baken caused injury to himself by attempting a backward somersault and striking his head on the sidewalk at about 2:30 AM on Higgins Avenue,” Lt. Scott Brodie said in a statement.
“Joseph Baken was contacted by Missoula police detectives and during a subsequent interview he admitted that the alleged assault against him did not occur as it was reported,” Brodie said.
The decision to charge Baken with filing a false report “was due in part to the sense of fear and anger that quickly developed after Baken had identified a specific business and possible suspects in his allegations,” Brodie said.
Baken could not be reached by NBCNews.com for comment on Thursday. A phone call to a listing for Joseph Baken in Billings went unanswered.
Baken was a featured background player in the 2011 film "Judas Kiss," billed as "an offbeat contemporary drama on a college campus alive with magical realism."
Carlos Pedraza, "Judas Kiss" writer-producer, had posted the picture of Baken's battered face on the movie's website along with news of the alleged attack. In a follow-up blog post on Tuesday, Pedraza said:
"As a journalist, I can now see the initial report raised questions that should have been followed up on before this case rose to the level of national attention that it has (e.g., Towleroad and Huffington Post). As a person who wanted to believe his friend, I admit my bias: I glossed over these questions because I wanted to support my friend. But reporters shouldn’t have.
I posted the news based on press reports and on the fact that a friend and cast member had been hurt. I stand by that decision because anti-gay violence is all too common, and whether this report is true doesn’t change that. Even though the report was false, it doesn’t lessen the value of the offers of support many people had asked me to relay. I am heartened by their stand that such violence is wrong and should be prosecuted."
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