Rep. Mark Samsel maintained "there was no altercation" and that he had planned the whole thing

By Sean Neumann
May 03, 2021 04:16 PM
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Mark Samsel
Rep. Mark Samsel
| Credit: Franklin County Adult Detention Center

A Kansas state lawmaker was arrested and charged after allegedly kneeing a student in the groin while substitute teaching last Wednesday — a bizarre school day the kids themselves filmed, according to multiple news outlets.

The Kansas City Star reports that Republican state Rep. Mark Samsel was charged with misdemeanor battery and later released on $1,000 bond after the incident, which was captured on video by students in a classroom at Wellsville's high school.

Some of those videos were subsequently published by the Star, though Samsel maintained "there was no altercation" and that he had planned the whole thing.

While the clips are fragmentary and do not capture a comprehensive sense of how Samsel, 36, taught, the footage does show him talking about a number of unusual topics around students — such as the devil, homosexuality, masturbating and suicide — and rough-housing with one of them.

"Who likes making babies? That feels good, doesn't it?" Samsel says at one point.

"Mark is being so gross," one of the students captioned a video published by the Star.

The videos also show the students frequently laughing in reaction to Samsel's behavior.

One of the clips shows Samsel bear hugging a student, who then calls out "help me!" while other students laugh, as though the student was being playful.

The student then breaks away as Samsel lets him free.

In another clip, apparently right after Samsel allegedly knees the child in the groin, the student is seen on his back on the ground before hopping up and maintaining he doesn't feel pain.

Samsel then says he thinks the student is about to start crying, asks "are you okay?" and apologizes while clapping him on the shoulder.

"Do you want to go to the nurse? She can check it for you," Samsel says, as other students laugh, then asks someone: "Do you want to check his nuts for him, please?"

The Star reported that "the videos angered dozens of parents, who felt that their children were put in danger" and the paper noted that Samsel also worked with students "as a referee and through church groups."

In another clip, Samsel seemingly blames an unidentified child's suicide attempts on his parents being gay.

And in yet another clip, Samsel complains that the Kansas Senate president, Ty Masterson, is "the devil disguised in a suit and a smile" and that he's "causing kids to kill themselves." 

The Associated Press reports Samsel is due in a Franklin County district court on May 19.

Wellsville Unified School District Superintendent Ryan Bradbury tells PEOPLE a student reported the incident the same day.

According to The Washington Post, it played out during an art class.

Bradbury says the district then notified local Wellsville police, as well as the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. Samsel "will not be returning," Bradbury says, adding the district was not aware of any prior complaints about Samsel.

Kansas State Rep. Mark Samsel
Rep. Mark Samsel
| Credit: Kansas State Legislature

Franklin County Sheriff Jeffrey Richards did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about the investigation on Monday.

Samsel, whom colleagues and constituents have since widely criticized, also did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the Star, he wrote in a social media post that "the kids and I planned ALL this to SEND A MESSAGE about art, mental health, teenage suicide, how we treat our educators and one another. To who? Parents. And grandparents. And all of Wellsville."

He told local news station KSNT that the incident was staged and that "nobody was in danger."

"'Altercation' is a strong word," he insisted. "There was no altercation. I'm sure there's some — one or two students who perceived it as one — but it was exactly as we planned it."

Samsel then blamed "keyboard warriors" for the backlash he has received since last week's incident. "I didn't do anything wrong," he said.

He wrote on Facebook on Sunday that he was "truly sorry that this has caused pain and confusion," the Star reports.

Masterson, the fellow Republican whom Samsel had criticized, told the Star that the videos show "the deranged rantings of a troubled man."

"It is obvious from the shocking videos he shouldn't be in a classroom or around children," Masterson, 51, added.

Mark Samsel
Mark Samsel
| Credit: John Hanna/AP/Shutterstock

The AP reports that, in addition to substitute teaching, Samsel has worked as a referee for the organization that oversees middle school and high school sports. Samsel's social media profiles show photos of him in referee gear, posed on playing fields with student athletes. His Instagram and Facebook pages promote the hashtag "#FortheKids"

Samsel has received hundreds of critical comments on his recent social media posts.

Ron Ryckman Jr., the Republican Speaker of the House in Kansas, did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment about whether Samsel would be censured, expelled or face punishment in the legislature, stemming from the incident.

Mike Kuckelman, the chairman of the state's Republican Party, also did not respond to a request for comment.

The AP reports that Samsel is the third Kansas lawmaker to face legal troubles this year, after state Rep. Aaron Coleman reached a legal agreement with a woman in January to end an anti-stalking court order. 

In early April, state Sen. Gene Suellentrop was arrested after police said he was drunk and driving the wrong way on a highway. Suellentrop then threatened to fight a responding officer, according to an affidavit. (The disposition of that case was not clear Monday, though Suellentrop was due in court in June.)

"What the hell is going on with the [Kansas Legislature] this session?" tweeted Kansas City, Missouri Mayor Quinton Lucas. "He shouldn't just be terminated from substituting. He should be blocked from being around all kids."