The Richfield police officer seen on video striking a Somali-American teen in the head has been disciplined by his department at least twice in recent years for improper use of force — including a specific warning against hitting suspects in the head.
After the second incident, he was demoted from the department’s K-9 unit and SWAT team and lost his position as a field training officer. He was ordered to undergo remedial training in the proper use of a police canine and the proper use of force.
The officer, Nate Kinsey, is on paid leave while the department and the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigate an Oct. 3 incident. Kinsey was captured on video striking 19-year-old Kamal Gelle in the head after a traffic stop near Adams Hill Park.
In January 2013, Kinsey was reprimanded by the department after hitting an intoxicated man in the head repeatedly with his fist and elbow. The man, described in a police report as “very intoxicated” and possibly under the influence of drugs, refused a ride to the Police Department and resisted when Kinsey attempted to put him in handcuffs, according to an internal police disciplinary report.
“At this time I delivered two elbow strikes to [the man’s] head area and two fist strikes to his face area in order to gain compliance,” Kinsey wrote. Kinsey also wrote that he “escorted [the man] to the ground, where he landed face first on the street, which caused a contusion to his lip and nose.”
In August 2013, Kinsey was demoted after an internal investigation of a second incident determined he failed to follow department guidelines on use of force and use of his canine. Police Chief Jay Henthorne, then serving as deputy chief, removed Kinsey from canine duty and SWAT duty and relieved him of his position as a field training officer. No details of the underlying incident were given in the investigative report, other than that it happened during a response to a possible burglary on Colfax Avenue.
In the first incident, the disciplinary report said the suspect’s level of resistance didn’t warrant blows to the head. In addition, the report expressed concern with Kinsey’s “immediate elevation of force.” Kinsey’s report on the incident also lacked sufficient descriptive details to justify his response, the investigative report said.
“The Department has a concern when a [sic] officer strikes the head area of a suspect to gain compliance because of the increased medical concerns associated with the head area,” the disciplinary report says.
“The Department recognizes there may be a need for an officer to strike in the head area, but only under extreme emergencies where the officer or another is encountering a physical attack or in order to protect the suspect from extreme harm to themself.”
In the video of the Oct. 3 incident, Kinsey shouts at Gelle, shoving him and saying loudly, “Now move when I tell you to!” Gelle doesn’t immediately comply, and Kinsey shouts, “We’re working right here, so [expletive] move!” Kinsey then smacks Gelle in the back of the head with an open palm and gives him another shove as the video ends.
Kinsey had just cited Gelle for careless driving. In the traffic citation, Kinsey wrote that Gelle was “speeding away from Adams Hill Park” and “nearly caused [an] accident due to careless driving.”
“All occupants then walked up on me later trying to cause trouble,” Kinsey wrote.
The phone video, shot by an occupant of Gelle’s car, is about 20 seconds long and shows only a brief segment of Kinsey’s contact with the teen. Richfield officials refused to release the Police Department’s audio and video records of the full traffic stop, saying the case is under investigation.
Mayor Debbie Goettel said Monday that the city would not comment on the incident while it’s under investigation.