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Gay man pleads guilty to false report of attack in downtown Missoula

Gay man pleads guilty to false report of attack in downtown Missoula

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A man who reported to police that he was beaten outside the Missoula Club early Sunday morning because he was gay has been cited for making a false report to law enforcement.

Joseph Baken, 22, pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in Missoula Municipal Court.

“The decision to file criminal charges 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,” Missoula Police Lt. Scott Brodie said in a statement.

News of Baken’s original report, along with a photo of his badly bruised face, circulated widely on the Internet Sunday and Monday, prompting outrage at what hundreds of people saw as gay-bashing.

But on Tuesday, Missoula police received a video that showed Baken trying to do a backflip off a curb on North Higgins Avenue at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday and striking his face on the sidewalk, Brodie’s statement said.

Baken had contacted police at about 4:30 a.m. Sunday and told them that three men had beaten him outside the Mo Club at about 1:30 a.m. after he asked where to find a gay bar.

“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,” the statement said.

Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir credited community cooperation in quickly resolving the case.

That resolution “will hopefull allow the GLBTI community some needed relief from the fear that was virally spreading across the country,” Muir said.

The photo of Baken’s injuries was displayed on Huffington Post and the Wipe Out Homophobia page on Facebook, among others. The initial report prompted renewed calls by some to add sexual orientation to Montana’s bias law.

On Tuesday afternoon, both the Huffington Post and Wipe Out Homophobia posted a caution that the attack was in question.

“Looks like we have all been had,” said Wipe Out Homophobia’s post, prompting hundreds more comments. This time, much of the outrage was directed at Baken.

He did not return telephone calls from the Missoulian on Tuesday.

Jamee Greer of the Montana Human Rights Network praised the response to the initial report, as well as law enforcement’s investigation of the false report.

“Members of the Missoula community responded to reports of an anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) assault in a productive and swift way, and that is great news for this community and all the people who live here,” Greer said.

“The city of Missoula should be proud of the way it responded, and we will continue to work toward including assaults that target Montanans based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in the legal definition of hate crimes in our state,” Greer said in a statement.

Reporter Gwen Florio can be reached at 523-5268, or @CopsAndCourts.

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