False police reports — criminal stupidity

Novelists, story writers, screenplay writers – we’re all about pressuring our characters. Letting them do stupid things, suffering the consequences when they do – or coming to the cliff of stupidity and stepping back.

I wrote in Books, Crooks & Counselors about two well-known cases of filing a false police report: the Runaway Bride, and the Balloon Boy incident. Their prosecution, guilty pleas, and sentencing were widely publicized. But criminal stupidity continues.

In Missoula, Montana, a 22 year old pled guilty to falsely reporting that he’d been beaten by three men outside a local bar when he asked where to find a gay bar.

The specific charge was making a false report to law enforcement, a misdemeanor. Remember that the names and elements of similar crimes vary state to state.

The Missoulian, which reported the story, notes that the report prompted fear among the GLBT community, when the report and a photo of the man’s bruised face circulated on line. Police recognized that fear, and filed charges immediately when they received a video, two days later, showing that the man injured himself when attempting a backflip off a street curb. (Inspired by watching too much Olympic gymnastics while drinking too much alcohol? I speculate.)

I appreciate the statement by Missoula Police Lt. Scott Brodie that “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 Chief Mark Muir thanked the community for its cooperation, and said the plea “will hopefull allow the GLBTI community some needed relief from the fear that was virally spreading across the country.”

Why make a false report? Reasons vary. In this instance, it’s hard to see what benefit the man expected. Other defendants have filed reports to cover up other crimes, seek revenge or cause trouble for someone else, provide an out, as in the case of the Runaway Bride – or position the family for a TV reality show, as Balloon Boy’s parents reportedly intended.

I found no reliable statistics on the number of false reports. Most incidents will be misdemeanors, subject to less than a year in jail–typically far less–and a fine up to $1,000.