The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

September 19, 2013

Borough seeks to fire police chief in gun videos

GILBERTON — Borough officials said Thursday they intend to fire a police chief suspended after he posted online videos of himself shooting automatic weapons and going on profanity-laced tirades about liberals and the Second Amendment.

Gilberton council officials made the decision on Thursday concerning police Chief Mark Kessler, the only full-time member of the town’s police force, who’s active in gun rights circles and is organizing an armed, nongovernment group that critics call a private militia.

Kessler, despite insisting he was simply exercising his constitutional rights, said the council’s decision was “no surprise.”

“We knew it was coming,” he said.

A closed-door disciplinary hearing earlier in the day had dwelled on allegations including that Kessler improperly used a state-administered program to buy discounted tires for his personal vehicle, failed to submit required crime data and made derogatory comments about borough officials.

Kessler’s attorney, Joseph Nahas, said the charges were trumped up to conceal the town’s intent to fire Kessler over the videos. He said after the vote he’ll request a public hearing at which both sides can call witnesses, as is Kessler’s right under due process rules. The council would then have to vote a second time to fire Kessler.

Kessler told reporters outside his disciplinary hearing that he had been an excellent police chief and had nothing to apologize for.

“My message was to wake up the people who are independents,” he said, “to say, ‘We’ve had enough and something needs to change, because we’re in bad shape all around. Not only here in this little town but across the nation. It’s a mess.’

“Yeah, I made some videos with some choice language, but that’s my right. That’s my freedom.”

Mayor Mary Lou Hannon had said she found his language offensive. Council members declined to comment after Thursday night’s vote.

 

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