Wabaunsee Co. Sheriff addresses “Blanket Man” situation

Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 2:28 PM CDT
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WABAUNSEE CO., Kan. (WIBW) - Wabaunsee Co. Sheriff Rob Hoskins has addressed the “Blanket Man” situation, however, officials’ hands are tied.

Wabaunsee Co. Sheriff Rob Hoskins says that as a Sheriff’s Office, sometimes the situations they are tasked to deal with do not come with a simple solution which can cause the public frustration.

Currently, Sheriff Hoskins said there is a man who loves to wander the local roads and highways and has even gone as far north as Nemaha Co. and as far south as Lyon Co. His name is Nathan but he is often referred to as “Blanket Man.”

Hoskins noted that Nathan has autism - a developmental disability and not a mental illness. He said autism takes many forms and many who have it become victimized and avoid uban areas as they are hesitant to communicate.

The Sheriff’s Office has spoken with Nathan on many occasions - sometimes more than once per day. They offer him assistance in many ways - offering food, water, transportation, shelter, reflective vests and anything that could help. However, he always refuses.

Officials said they are aware of Nathan’s situation and make every attempt to deal with these instances without agitating him o causing escalation. There is no Kansas law that allows police to take an individual into “protective custody” unless they are an immediate threat to themselves or others. As he is not suicidal, Nathan cannot be taken into custody or placed in a state hospital - again autism is a developmental disability for which there is no treatment.

“It is not a crime to be homeless or disabled,” Hoskins noted.

Hoskins indicated that officers could issue a citation for walking in the roadway in areas where a shoulder or sidewalk is available. However, the offense is an infraction and individuals can’t be arrested for an infraction unless they fail to appear in court and a warrant for their arrest is issued by a judge. This is also a long and drawn-out process.

“As Sheriff, I do not think the Wabaunsee Co. Jail is the appropriate setting or answer to this particular issue,” Hoskins said.

Frequently, the Sheriff said his office deals with diabled, homeless, mentally ill, or otherwise compromised individuals and families in distress that social services programs cannot help. He also said that response from state agencies is limited and never immediate.

As many of these situations are not as visible as Nathan’s, Hoskins said many are not aware of how large an issue it really is. He said his office has learned to deal as best it can with the limited resources in the area.

“Our officers will continue to monitor this situation and offer any assistance we can, but we cannot force any individual to accept help that is offered,” Hoskins concluded. “We ask the public to be aware and use caution in this situation.”