Appeals Court vacates reinstatement of fired Richfield police officer

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has vacated an arbitrator's award that reinstated Richfield Police Officer Nathan Kinsey, who was fired by the city after a video of him pushing and hitting a teen during a 2015 traffic stop gained attention on Twitter. 

The court sided with the city in a unanimous decision, citing the “public policy exception” – that reinstating Kinsey goes against the Richfield Police Department’s public obligation to enforce the standards of conduct expected of a police officer.

“Reinstating Kinsey -- an officer who admittedly failed to report his use of force when he should have and has had prior offenses and warnings regarding the same duty to report -- interferes with the RPD’s legal obligation to establish and enforce minimum standards of conduct for its police officers,” the judges wrote. “Specifically, it interferes with the clear public policy in favor of police officers demonstrating self-regulation by being transparent and properly reporting their use of force. Further, the arbitration award interferes with the public policy against police officers using excessive force because the only way a city and police department can successfully uphold that public policy is if they are given the opportunity to review occasions involving the use of force.”

The court’s decision is not unprecedented, but it is extremely rare. Public employee disputes tend to go to arbitration instead of costly courtroom battles and cities rarely challenge the arbitrator’s decision. In fact, the Court of Appeals decision in the Kinsey case is only the second time since 1993 the court has vacated an arbitrator’s decision to reinstate a police officer.

“We do not take this action lightly, but rather thoughtfully and unanimously,” the judges wrote. “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 incident that led to Kinsey’s firing was a routine call of suspicious activity in Adams Hill Park on Oct. 3, 2015. Richfield police were trying to clear the park, but 19-year-old Kamal Gelle didn’t want to leave. A video of the incident posted to Twitter shows a police officer pushing the young man, then moments later slapping him on the back of the head. Documents obtained by Fox 9 revealed Officer Kinsey has been disciplined for his use of force before.

Officer Kinsey did not report the incident, which was a violation of Richfield Police Department policy.

District court documents cite “seven incidents of coaching, counseling, and training or discipline since 2011, all related to issues with use of force and report writing,” and “in 2013, Kinsey went through 80 hours of intensive remedial re-training focused specifically on use of force and report writing.” 

“Despite the RPD’s efforts to correct Kinsey’s use-of-force reporting, after Kinsey’s recent encounter with D1, Kinsey again failed to file a report on his use of force,” the judge wrote in the Appeals Court decision.

Kinsey was not criminally charged for the 2015 incident, but Richfield paid a nearly $50,000 civil rights settlement to Kamal Gelle.

Richfield Police Chief Jay Henthorne said he is satisfied with the court of appeals ruling. 

“I was confident in the process we followed and very optimistic that the decision would come our way. The most important part of this ruling is that instills the public’s trust that the community has within the police department,” he said

Kinsey was immediately put on leave and eventually fired after an internal investigation.

“We tried several times both in counseling, coaching, remedial training and training to have officer Kinsey file reports when use of force was used, and in the incident of October 2015, a report was not written.”

This is only the second time an appeals court has tossed out an arbitrator's decision on a police officer.

The union who represented Kinsey wrote in a statement "Officer Kinsey is held in high regard by his fellow officers and is known for his honesty, commitment and dedication. We believe that the decision to fire him was driven by a rush to judgment based on only partial audio and video recordings, and without a proper consideration of the facts."