Another Police Encounter with Autism Goes South

Blake Wimberly (Courtesy CBS11 DFW)

A young man with autism and schizophrenia, yet able to live in his own apartment, had a harrowing trip to a Whole Foods Market in Dallas.

After customers complained that he was “behaving oddly,” police were called to the store. Apparently, the young man was running in the aisles and not staying in the store proper. Confronted in an “Employee Only” area and told to leave or he’ll be arrested, 28-year-old Blake Wimberly refused, stating that he needed to call his mother. He also told the officers he was autistic, displaying his medical alert bracelet. Officers nonetheless arrested him for criminal trespass and took him to jail, an action that was totally at their discretion. His mother was in the shower when the police station called and no one answered when she returned their call. Blake was in custody for twelve hours.

Even before this episode Blake suffered from a paranoid fear of the police, which was at times crippling. Now one wonders if it wasn’t a premonition.

What, pray tell, is the use of a medical alert bracelet if it’s only going to be ignored? Why instruct people with disabilities to disclose their condition to officers if the information is treated with indifference? Clearly, the officers should’ve let the docile young man call his mother, who would’ve come to the store and taken him home. Oddly, Blakely is a former employee of that store. Was there no one working who knew and remembered him who could speak on his behalf? 

Blakely’s mom is planning to sue the police over the incident and rightfully so. Her son’s fragile mental health was seriously eroded by the trauma of his arrest. He maintains he was treated badly at the station and there’s every reason to believe him. 

It seems as if nary a day goes by without some fresh news of the colliding worlds of law enforcement and autism. It’s regrettable when the officers don’t know the person they’re dealing with has autism. 

It’s inexcusable when they do.



3 Responses to Another Police Encounter with Autism Goes South

  1. Susan says:

    It hit me later that since Blake used to work at the store he would’ve been familiar with Employee Only areas. He was probably confused as to why he couldn’t be there anymore.

  2. Annie says:

    While I’m happy to see people with autism fighting for, standing up for, and speaking for their rights, please realize a lot of the issues you face also apply to people with other mental (and other invisible) disabilities, and are not unique to people with autism.

    Police treating people with mental illnesses (whether you use the term or not is another debate, I know, and a debate which also doesn’t apply only to autism) poorly, is a widespread phenomenon. I have a mental disability which affects some of my behaviors, and I have had more than one experience where police simply did not seem to believe I had my mental disability when I said I did and it was the reason I was behaving as I was.

    Other mental disabilities may affect how somebody talks, walks, etc.

    I think it would be much better if the people in the autistic community who are standing up for the rights of autistic people, would broaden their fight to encompass all people with mental AND other disabilities.

    I’m not sure why I seem to hear so much more from people with autism about autism, than from other people, or from anybody, about the issues people with mental disabilities face in general.

    Since you guys seems to have more of a voice, for whatever reason, please expand to speaking for everybody who faces the same issues!!

  3. Susan says:

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but I am not well versed in other disabilities. To be effective, I need to write about what I know. As a mother of autistic twins, autism is my reality. Autism is also relatively new to the world, and we are playing catch-up in educating people about it, (including ourselves). is a good source for broader news.

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