GILBERTON, Pa. - A police chief in Schuylkill County has been suspended for 30 days without pay following his posting of YouTube videos showing himself firing semi-automatic weapons and screaming profanities.
Following a 55-minute closed-door executive session, Gilberton borough council endorsed the punishment for Police Chief Mark Kessler on a 5-1 vote, with council member Lloyd George voting no.
Kessler made national headlines recently with Internet videos he says were meant as defenses of the First and Second amendments. The videos created a firestorm by making veiled threats and casting aspersions on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as well as liberals and Democrats.
Council said it disciplined Kessler because the guns in the videos were owned by the borough and they were used without prior authorization. Kessler donated the weapons and the ammunition to the borough in January.
Kessler argued again Wednesday night that his videos were protected by the First Amendment because he was not wearing his police uniform in the videos.
Immediately after the vote, Kessler's attorney, Joseph Nahas, said he and Kessler hadn't decided whether the suspension would be appealed. "We got hit with it when you got hit with it," Nahas told WFMZ.com.
However, at an impromptu news conference about 15 minutes after Wednesday night's meeting was adjourned, Kessler said he accepts the council's decision and looks forward to getting back to work in 30 days.
Kessler also said he would meet with Nahas on Thursday about whether council acted properly, because he believes the borough doesn't have written policies in place governing a situation such as his.
Asked if he would do anything differently, Kessler stated, "I make no apologies and have no regrets."
Mayor Mary Lou Hannon said state police will patrol the borough exclusively for the next month because Kessler is the borough's only police officer.
After council voted, a handful of the 20 or so members of the public and media sandwiched inside the tiny meeting room at the borough wastewater treatment plant made their feelings known.
One man asked council to have an outside agency investigate Kessler before his behavior leads to a lawsuit against the borough, while another said his wife is afraid of the chief, "and if my wife is afraid, so am I. ... If I'm coming through the borough, I won't stop until I get to Frackville."
Another man told council he was "embarrassed as a gun owner" by the chief's actions and that Kessler should be fired.
A couple of Kessler supporters spoke up for the chief, saying he has put his life on the line to defend the very people who are criticizing him, and that rather than fixate on his videos, people should pay attention to legislation such as The National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the president to "assassinate Americans."
Most of the drama Wednesday night happened outside the building where council met.
Dozens of people who backed Kessler were dressed like militia, and several carried loaded semi-automatic weapons.
Others carried American flags and carried signs that read "Impeach Obama, Kessler For President" and "Legalize The Constitution."
Things got a bit heated and almost chaotic when Michael Morrill, executive director of Keystone Progress, was trying to explain to the media throng why his group was demanding that Kessler be fired.
Hecklers hollered "Why do you hate freedom?", "Why don't you get your facts straight?" and "Liberal lies!" at Morrill as he was saying he was going to deliver an on-line petition with 20,000 signatures demanding Kessler's ouster.
"It's not about vulgarity. ... It's not about guns. ... It's about a rogue police chief," Morrill said.
He noted that members of Keystone Progress decided not to attend Wednesday night's meeting in force "because of the threats to law-abiding citizens."
Kessler supporters also heckled Gene Stilp, of Marysville, Perry County, who said he had filed right-to-know request forms for the borough code of conduct for police officers and information about Kessler's contract.
"As a Democrat, if he [Kessler] wants to shoot a Democrat, he can shoot me," Stilp said.
One man defending the chief's videos shouted back, "Unfortunately, people won't listen unless somebody gets colorful."
Several Kessler supporters let it be known they were unhappy with the media coverage of the controversy, and a few tried to make it difficult for news people to cover what was happening.
At one point during Kessler's news conference, three of four people were flashing strobe lights at cameras being used to record the chief's remarks and didn't cease until Kessler and Nahas asked them to stop.
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