GILBERTON, Pa. - A termination hearing for a controversial police chief in Schuylkill County came to a sudden end Thursday night an hour and a half after it started.
The hearing was halted after a loaded handgun belonging to one of suspended Gilberton Borough Police Chief Mark Kessler's supporters fell from the holster and crashed onto the concrete floor.
"You gotta go!" Kessler's attorney, Joseph Nahas, didn't hesitate after the semi-automatic firearm landed inches from him and the suspended police chief.
"I have a real concern for safety, and when I'm doing cross examination I can't have weapons falling around me, anyone or yourself," said Nahas after the incident.
The gun didn't go off in the small, crowded room, but Nahas said he and other officials were concerned about the safety of everyone crammed into the meeting room at borough hall.
"To have what happened in this particular room made of concrete and steel, I think, could be fatal for many, many people,'' he told the audience.
The dropped handgun abruptly ended the hearing where Kessler was fighting to save his job. Three weeks ago borough officials voted to start the process of firing him, but under due-process rules the chief is entitled to call witnesses at a public hearing. While it was Kessler's profanity-laced gun rights videos that gained national attention, the termination hearing focused on unrelated job performance issues. The chief is the only full-time member of the town's police force.
"They actually suspended him for thirty days for misuse of Borough property, but there was no policies or procedures to say how or when he can utilize it," shared Nahas. "It's simply smoke and mirrors to go forth and terminate Kessler based on the videos that he posted."
Among other things, the Borough Council says Kessler made improper use of a state purchasing program to buy discounted tires for his personal vehicle, failed to submit crime reports as required under state law, and made vulgar sexual references to borough council members.
Kessler has said his much-watched Internet videos, in which he fired automatic weapons while using foul language, were intended to draw attention to the erosion of constitutional rights. At the hearing he let his attorney do all the talking.
"I think council is going to terminate Mr. Kessler regardless of what the hearing officer says," added Nahas.
No date has been set for the continued hearing. Nahas says it most likely will be in a few weeks at the Schuylkill County Courthouse, where weapons are prohibited.
Allentown, PA 18102