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State lawmaker accused of kicking boy: Stress caused 'mania'

·3 min read
In this photo from Monday, May 3, 2021, Kansas state Rep. Mark Samsel, R-Wellsville, talks on his cellphone ahead of the House's daily session, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Samsel has surrendered his substitute teacher's license and says he has been seeing mental health professionals after being charged with three counts of battery over interactions with two Wellsville High School students while teaching an April 28, 2021, art class. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas legislator accused of kicking a high school student in the testicles has surrendered his state substitute teacher's license and said Wednesday that “extreme” stress caused him to have "an isolated episode of mania with psychotic features" in a classroom. 

Republican state Rep. Mark Samsel disclosed in a Facebook post that he has seen mental health professionals over the past three months. He also wrote that he is studying ways to handle stress so that “there is no likelihood” an episode will occur again. He surrendered his teaching license Tuesday. 

He faces three misdemeanor criminal charges of battery following what the local prosecutor described as “rude, insulting or angry” interactions with two students, ages 15 or 16, during an April 28 art class at the high school in his hometown of Wellsville, about 45 miles (72 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City. One student told a sheriff's deputy that Samsel had manhandled him and kicked him, according to an affidavit from the deputy. 

Samsel, a 36-year-old attorney who has served in the House since 2019, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, each of which is punishable by up to six months in jail. He has a court hearing scheduled for Aug. 16 and said during a brief interview that he does not know how the surrender of his teaching license or his mental health treatment will affect the case.

“It just felt it was the right time to share, that God was calling on me to do it," Samsel said during the interview. “I just hope this brings light to the mental health battles, that a lot of us are struggling.”

Samsel's attorney, Christopher Scott, did not immediately return a telephone message Wednesday seeking comment. County Attorney Brandon Jones, the local prosecutor, is out of the office until next week, his office said, and he did not immediately return a telephone message.

Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., a Kansas City-area Republican, said Samsel's situation shows the importance of mental health services. 

"I’m pleased to see those services are being used and hope they will continue to be used by any Kansan feeling the weight that often comes with stress and anxiety,” he said. 

Videos shot by students on April 28 and provided by a parent showed Samsel talking about suicide, God and sex in a noisy classroom. According to the deputy's affidavit, Samsel said he only “demonstrated a kick” for one boy who had disrupted class but did not kick him. The deputy also wrote that Samsel said God told him to do what he did.

Samsel said Wednesday that he was trying to make a point about mental health issues and the need for people to be kinder to one another. 

A judge in May ordered Samsel to undergo a mental health evaluation, and the resulting report remains under seal. Samsel said in his Facebook post that he suffered from “extreme stress, pressure, and agitation over a sustained period of time,” with the worst of it during April and May, when lawmakers were wrapping up their business for the year.

 “There was a lot of pain and struggle involved, but I think — I mean, it's all moving in the right direction,” Samsel said during his interview. “I do think God's using it for hopefully higher purposes.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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