Fiancee: Vet gave show errant photo by 'mistake'
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — An "America's Got Talent" contestant scrutinized for claims about being injured in Afghanistan made a mistake when he gave the show a photograph of another soldier and passed it off as himself, the man's fiancée said Thursday.
The NBC series this week and WFAA-TV of Dallas last month used the picture with segments on Timothy Michael Poe, a former Minnesota Army National Guard member who said he suffered a broken back and brain injury in a grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2009. The Guard says military records don't substantiate his claims.
The caption of the original picture on the official military website Defense.gov shows Staff Sgt. Norman Bone serving in Afghanistan in 2006.
Poe has declined multiple requests for comment from The Associated Press this week. But his fiancee, Carrie Morris, said Thursday that Poe accidentally submitted the photo to NBC and the station because he was hurrying and didn't take the time to look at which picture he was sending. She said he probably thought it was the right picture when he sent it to "America's Got Talent" because he already had sent it to WFAA.
Morris said she didn't know where Poe got the picture of Bone but that "he downloads military stuff all the time" and that other people send them pictures as well.
"But I know that it was a mistake on his part. It was an accident. It was a complete accident," Morris said.
Bone declined to comment to The Associated Press when reached on his cellphone Thursday, saying he wanted to consult with legal counsel because he's still on active duty.
NBC referred a call for comment to the show's producer, FremantleMedia North America. In a statement emailed to the AP, FreMantle Media spokesman Neil Schubert apologized to Bone for the photo's misuse. He said it has been removed and won't be used again.
"It was supplied to us by Tim and used on the show in good faith," Schubert said.
WFAA assistant news director Chris Berg also confirmed Poe sent them the picture.
"Today they told our reporter they made a mistake and sent the wrong picture," Berg said by email. "Fiancee told us 'Tim forgets things.'"
Poe, 35, of San Antonio, Texas, told WFAA that he also wounded was while serving in Iraq when his truck got hit by an IED in 2005 — something the Guard also disputes.
Minnesota Army National Guard spokesman Lt. Col Kevin Olson reiterated Thursday that there were no official records showing Poe ever deployed to Iraq or was injured there. He said Poe reported to Camp Shelby in Mississippi "for pre-mobilization training on Sept. 21, 2005, but ultimately did not deploy."
Military records show Poe served with the Guard from December 2002 through May 2011, as a supply specialist. He was deployed in Kosovo from October 2007 to July 2008, and then served in Afghanistan for about a month in 2009. He was honorably discharged in 2011, because of a physical disability.
Olson said none of the military records that Morris provided to reporters Wednesday backed up Poe's claims of combat injuries. He said other documents indicate Poe suffered the injury that led to his medical retirement while training at Indiana's Camp Atterbury in July 2009, before he deployed to Afghanistan.
"If Mr. Poe has additional information to support his claims, we welcome it, and we will also continue to investigate and if appropriate, pursue a correction to his medical records and status," Olson wrote.
In the "America's Got Talent" episode that aired Monday, Poe told the celebrity judges that he spent 14 years in the military and was injured in Afghanistan.
"I had volunteered for a team to go out and clear buildings and help out with the wounded," Poe said during a taped interview on the show. "There was a guy who comes up with a rocket-propelled grenade. I saw it coming down, and by the time I turned and went to jump on top of my guys, I yelled 'grenade' and the blast had hit me."
It's unclear whether Poe could face any legal action since he is no longer in the military. While a federal law called the Stolen Valor Act allows prosecution of people who make false claims about receiving medals, Poe didn't say anything about medals in the NBC or WFAA segments.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule within a few weeks on whether the law is constitutional.