GILBERTON, Pa. — A suspended police chief who posted videos online in which he shot borough-owned automatic weapons while shouting obscenities about liberals and the Second Amendment fought to keep his job Thursday as he defended himself against unrelated allegations that his attorney said were trumped up to conceal the town’s intent to fire him over the videos.
Gilberton Chief Mark Kessler told reporters outside his closed-door disciplinary hearing that he had been an excellent police chief and had nothing to apologize for. Kessler and attorney Joseph Nahas presented their case at the hearing, but Nahas said he expects his client to be fired when the borough council meets Thursday night.
Kessler’s pro-gun videos have garnered hundreds of thousands of views online. He acknowledges they are inflammatory but says they’re designed to draw attention to what he views as the erosion of Second Amendment and other constitutional rights.
“It’s not easy. It’s stressful, it’s really stressful,” said Kessler, who has solicited donations to help keep his family afloat financially during his unpaid suspension. “But I feel in my heart I’m doing the right thing. Yeah, I made some videos with some choice language, but that’s my right. That’s my freedom.”
A handful of members of Kessler’s “Constitution Security Force,” a pro-gun group that critics have likened to a private militia, showed up in support Thursday, openly carrying assault rifles and handguns. Some of Kessler’s supporters got into a heated argument with an opponent.
Nahas said the borough claimed that Kessler made improper use of a state-administered purchasing program to buy discounted tires for his personal vehicle, failed to submit required crime data, and made derogatory comments about borough officials, among other allegations that he asserted were an attempt to “move it away from the videos that you’ve all seen.”
“None of these allegations have any merit whatsoever,” Nahas said. “These are simply bald-faced lies to try to terminate my client.”
John Dean, the borough’s lawyer, declined to comment after the hearing, calling it a personnel matter.
Kessler supporter Blue Van Cott, 35, said he believes Kessler is standing up for American freedoms that are under assault.
“We’re getting to the point where you can’t have salt, you can’t have a soda because it’s too big for you. This is bigger than guns. Somebody had to stand up and say enough is enough is enough,” said Van Cott, who had a .45-caliber handgun strapped to his leg.
But Pennsylvania political activist Gene Stilp, who verbally sparred with Kessler’s supporters outside the hearing, said Kessler should be fired. Stilp said he has filed complaints about Kessler with state and federal agencies.
“He’s hiding behind the First and Second Amendments and using intimidation and inciting to violence,” Stilp said.
Kessler has denied inciting anybody.