Ex-Gopher Philip Nelson released on $20K bail; 2nd attacker sought

  • Article by: CURT BROWN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2014 - 10:06 AM

Ex-Gopher freed on bail in assault outside Mankato bar.

– Five to 10 seconds.

That’s how long police say an altercation, likely exacerbated by alcohol, lasted early Sunday as bars closed in downtown Mankato.

Now, a 24-year-old father is in grave condition with a fractured skull and swollen brain. Doctors are unsure if Isaac Kolstad will survive and, if so, the extent of the brain damage he suffered.

Former University of Minnesota starting quarterback Philip Nelson, 20, stands charged with first- and third-degree assault, facing up to 20 years in prison for allegedly kicking Kolstad in the head.

And police are searching for a third man in his 20s wearing a torn red shirt, seen on city surveillance cameras delivering a punch that witnesses say seemed to knock out Kolstad before his head crashed loudly against the street and Nelson allegedly kicked the left side of his skull “like a soccer ball.”

“You have some decisions that were made by some individuals that probably had some impaired thinking and those decisions will affect many lives for years to come,” said Patrick McDermott, assistant Blue Earth County attorney.

Nelson, a high school football star from Mankato who transferred to Rutgers University after last season, appeared in court for 10 minutes Monday wearing orange jail fatigues.

His wrists were handcuffed and his feet were shackled as his parents looked on.

He was released on $20,000 bail a few hours later. He agreed to make all court appearances and waive extradition so he can return to school in New Jersey and attend a family graduation in Wisconsin as his case begins to unfold.

Blue Earth District County Judge Bradley Walker said he based the bail amount on guidelines for offenders with no criminal history.

Nelson “was not the aggressor in this situation,” his attorney, Jim Fleming, told the judge. “The man in the red shirt rendered the young man unconscious.”

Police released video from some of the city’s 140 surveillance cameras, seeking the public’s help in identifying the man in the red shirt who dashed away. They were also asking for help from other witnesses seen on the videotape.

“The entire thing lasted five to 10 seconds,” said Todd Miller, Mankato’s public safety director. “Mr. Nelson and Mr. Kolstad know each other and played football against each other in Mankato in high school.”

According to the criminal complaint, there were several versions of what happened at the intersection of Cherry and Front streets about 2 a.m. Sunday.

But the dispute seemed to start when a bouncer at the Blue Bricks bar kissed Nelson’s girlfriend’s hand, prompting him to get irate and possibly confuse Kolstad for the bouncer when they were later out on the street.

Nelson and his girlfriend told police there was no kick to the head. But the complaint includes an account from Mankato police Sgt. Jeff Knutson, who reviewed footage from the city’s cameras. He said Kolstad seemed to trigger things when he “raised his arm and struck Nelson in the back area with the punch.”

That knocked Nelson and another witness to the ground. Kolstad moved away when the suspect being sought in the red shirt broke free from another man restraining him and ran toward Kolstad.

“The unknown suspect delivered a punch to the face/head area of [Kolstad, who] immediately goes limp and collapses to the pavement,” the complaint said.

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