Officials vote to fire foul-mouthed Pennsylvania police chief

Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler talks with reporters this week before a closed disciplinary hearing.
(Jacqueline Dormer / Associated Press)

Leaders of a Pennsylvania borough voted this week to fire their foul-mouthed police chief while the embattled cop’s attorney vowed Friday to seek a public hearing for his client.

The Borough Council of Gilberton voted 6 to 1 to “suspend pending termination” of Chief Mark Kessler, giving him a 10-day period to appeal the firing before it comes final.

Kessler was first suspended in August for the unauthorized use of borough-owned firearms used in YouTube videos that have received nearly 1 million views. In the videos, Kessler harangues liberals and promotes 2nd Amendment rights in diatribes that are laced with profanities and punctuated by sustained gunfire.

But the formal reasons for firing Kessler nearly 2½ years before his contract ends, outlined in a closed-door meeting Thursday, skirt mentioning his conduct on YouTube, said his attorney Joseph P. Nahas.


According to Nahas, the borough has accused Kessler of neglecting to file crime statistics, abusing the borough’s discount when purchasing tires for his personal vehicle, insulting borough officials on the Internet and failing to return borough-owned firearms.

“All these allegations are all smoke and mirrors,” Nahas told the Los Angeles Times by telephone Friday. “What happened is: They suspended him for his videos and hired a law firm to come up with new areas and reasons to fire him.”

Nahas said Kessler could not file crime statistics because of the original employment suspension in August. The discounted tires were installed on his Humvee, which was used on-the-job during the snowy winter months. He said there’s no proof that Kessler made specific comments on an Internet forum about borough officials. And, Nahas said, Kessler returned the firearms to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“[Kessler] had no verbal or written reprimand -- and now all of a sudden, these crop up,” Nahas said. “It’s quite frankly fraudulent. It’s a lie.”

An attorney for Gilberton’s borough council declined to comment to The Times, citing personnel matters. Calls to Gilberton’s mayor were not answered.

In an interview last month with The Times, Kessler remained unapologetic for his videos, which have galvanized both sides of the gun control debate.

“Did I make some questionable videos? Sure,” Kessler said by telephone. “But all I did was speak and express my 2nd Amendment rights. It was just me, my tiny camera ... and a pile of dirt.”

But activists have disagreed. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence called for the chief’s ouster in a billboard posted on a highway near Gilberton, a borough of fewer than a thousand people about a two-hour drive north of Philadelphia. Keystone Progress, a statewide liberal advocacy group that has collected more than 23,000 signatures calling for the chief’s termination, said that Kessler was not merely promoting gun rights but also has ties to a wider insurrection movement.


Kessler denied affiliation with the insurrection movement, instead admitting that he used “some choice words” in videos that ultimately amounted to peaceful protest.

“I’m not the big bad guy everybody makes me out to be,” said Kessler, who has worked as Gilberton’s top cop for more than a decade.

Nahas said he will filed a formal request for a public hearing on Monday. Pending the termination proceeding’s outcome, Nahas said his client will file a wrongful termination lawsuit against Gilberton.



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Twitter: @MattHjourno