State Court of Appeals Reverses Arbitrator's Decision to Reinstate Richfield Police Officer

April 09, 2018 10:23 PM

The Minnesota State Court of Appeals has issued a ruling that reverses an arbitrator's decision to reinstate a Richfield police officer accused of pushing and hitting a Somali teen in an incident in October 2015 that was caught on cell phone video and shared on social media.

Officer Nate Kinsey had been fired after an internal investigation into the incident at Adams Hill Park in Richfield; but in December 2016, an  arbitrator overturned the termination and instead issued a three-day suspension.

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The arbitrator concluded Kinsey's use of force was not excessive under the circumstances, and his failure to report or inform his supervisor of the incident was not intended to conceal it or deceive command staff, rather it was simply a lapse in judgment.

RELATED: Richfield Police Officer Accused of Hitting Somali Teen is Reinstated 

The City of Richfield appealed that decision because Kinsey didn't report the use of force, even though he's required to. And given the 10-year veteran's history of being cited seven times since 2011 for similar behavior, City Manager Steven Devich said that in a community with 38 percent minorities, it would be hard for Kinsey to keep serving.

"It's a big deal," Devich said. "It's our responsibility to ensure we maintain public trust and manage police operations in the highest standard we can, with transparency and accountability."

In Monday's ruling, the court agreed. "To prevent the use of excessive physical force by police, there is a clear public policy in favor of transparency and proper reporting on the force," the ruling read, in part. "An arbitrator's decision to reinstate a police officer who was terminated by his municipal employer violates that public policy and will not be enforced where the police officer failed to report his use in violation of the employer's policy and has been previously disciplined, trained, and counseled for failing to report prior instances of the use of force."

RELATED: Richfield Police Officer Sued in Connection to Confrontation with Somali Teen

The ruling states Kinsey slapped the head of an individual, identified as then-19-year-old Kamal Gelle, then shoved him, causing him to stumble a few steps forward down a hill.

The ruling stated the incident occurred after Kinsey had pulled over two vehicles when responding to a report from a Richfield resident that "more than 50 Somalis" were gathered in a park and "driving crazy on the roads."

The Hennepin County Attorney's Office announced in December 2015 that criminal charges would not be filed against Kinsey. 

The ruling Monday noted the fact that the decision marked just the second time the court had overruled an arbitration award involving the reinstatement of a police officer in the state because of a violation of public policy.

"We do not take this action lightly, but rather thoughtfully and unanimously," the ruling read. "Nevertheless, we are obligated to follow the law. To do otherwise would violate a well-defined and dominant public policy by jeopardizing public safety and undermining public trust in law enforcement."

The Minnesota Police Chiefs Association issued a statement Monday that reads, in part, "We are pleased and somewhat surprised...if the ruling stands, Police Chiefs and Sheriff's will likely have more latitude in dealing with officers who fail to follow policy....without worrying as much about their decisions being overturned."

Sean Gormley, executive director of the state's largest law enforcement union, the Law Enforcement Labor Services, also issued a statement Monday: 

 

"We are extremely disappointed with the Court of Appeal's decision. The decision deals an unprecedented blow to a basic pillar of collective bargaining – binding arbitration. ... It's important to note that Officer Kinsey was not found to have used excessive force in this incident. ...We are carefully analyzing our options, which include an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court."
 

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Frank Rajkowski and Beth McDonough

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