KUNA, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
On Sunday, a post made on the Facebook page “Kuna Must Know” sparked a collective outrage so unprecedented in the small town that the police intervened.
The post, made by Katie Blake, alleged that her middle school-age daughter and a friend were approached by a man in a white van while out on a bike ride to Sprinkles on Top, a frozen yogurt and ice cream shop. Blake said the man called out to the two girls telling them to come over to him.
The girls ran to the nearby Super C convenience store and called Blake, who then called the police department and made a report. The man, who police identified as James Dunn, appeared to be homeless, according to the police department. According to Kuna Police Chief Mike Fratusco, the mom and girls did “the right thing up” to that point.
And the department, Fratusco said, also followed protocol. The police identified Dunn, contacted him and explained to him how his actions looked and that it wasn’t appreciated by the parents. They told him he needed to stop.
But once people on Facebook caught wind of the incident, Fratusco said things got out of hand.
“Reading through all the social media comments, I had concerns, really, that it could escalate and to the point where somebody could get physically attacked and that was my main concern at that point,” Fratusco said.
Comments like “Round up the posse and make him leave town,” and “Kill your local Pedophile” were some of the 218 comments received on Blake’s post before she turned commenting off.
And from there, people continued to take matters into their own hands.
“Our deputies were told that people were going up and hitting the van with their hand, telling them to get out of Kuna. Just stuff like that. So nothing physical towards him. But it was getting out of control,” Fratusco said.
He decided to make a statement:
I want to take a moment to talk about reports we’ve been getting about a man in a white van talking to kids in Kuna this week. Kuna Police were dispatched to a call of possible child enticement a few days ago involving a 57-year-old man who has been seen around town this summer — who appears to be living in his van.
Our officers talked to everyone involved, collected evidence, determined no crime occurred, and released the man.
This does not mean it was a good choice for the man to try and speak with children. We know it made those kids feel unsafe, and they did what we tell them to do, which is tell their parents, who called us. Those kids and their parents did the absolute right thing. What I can tell you is that the man’s behavior in that interaction wasn’t a criminal act. Our agency takes these calls seriously and if we determine there is probable cause for an arrest, we will do so.
Kuna Police has contacted this man in the past, and outside of some driver’s license and registration issues — which he has been cited for— his behavior had not been criminal or risen to the level of an arrestable offense prior to Wednesday.
What I can’t condone as a law enforcement officer are the methods used by some Kuna residents to try and force someone out of the community.
When citizens start hitting someone’s vehicle and yelling at them to leave town, it reflects poorly on all of us who live and work in this city.
Some of the ways people handled themselves during the last two days could rise to the level of criminal activity – and that is disappointing for me and every other member of the Kuna Police Department.
I know people want to do the right thing when it comes to protecting their children and the community. I’m urging our citizens to please take the time to think about the information we put out on social media.
I know as individuals we do not control people’s actions, but we are all responsible for the information we put out in the world.
I love this community. That is why I chose to work here both as a sergeant and now the Chief of Police. It is also why I will stay here until I eventually retire.
Let us all work together to keep this community safe and help us do it in the most professional way possible so we can make Kuna a safer place to live, work and play.
Sincerely, Chief Mike Fratusco
Many people on Facebook expressed gratitude to Fratusco for addressing the issue, but some were still upset, calling the lack of action toward Dunn “disgusting” and “an outrage.” But Fratusco said the department has to operate within the law.
We have to have probable cause to make an arrest,” Fratusco said. “We don't have the freedom just to run somebody out of town. We don't operate like that.”
And, he said, the general public shouldn’t either. Fratusco said he understands, as a parent, the concern people felt. But over the course of two days the department received 18 calls wanting police to respond to the white van. This ended up tying up the department’s resources.
“We have to respond to all of them or attempt to,” he said.
Fratusco did confirm that Dunn was arrested on Wednesday on a charge of forgery-fictitious bills. He said the arrest had nothing to do with child enticement.
All-in-all, the uproar was unlike anything Fratusco has seen in Kuna. He said watching the ordeal unfold “shocked" him. And he hopes people learn from it.
“You need to make sure that we have all the information before we light up social media,” he said.
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.
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