Kessler hearing postponed after man drops gun
MAHANOY PLANE - The public hearing for suspended Gilberton police Chief Mark Kessler ended prematurely Thursday evening when a spectator dropped a semi-automatic pistol on the floor in the meeting room.
The pistol did not discharge and no one was injured. The man who had the pistol, possibly a .45 semi-automatic, was not identified; however, someone was heard calling him "Dave" earlier in the evening.
The incident occurred about 90 minutes into the public hearing in the municipal building. Testimony was heard on several charges by borough officials that Kessler had allegedly been derelict in his duties as police chief and had conducted himself in an inappropriate manner during off-duty hours in public statements against borough council members and the mayor.
Kessler was suspended by borough council on July 31. On Sept. 19, council voted to continue the suspension pending his termination. Thursday's hearing was Kessler's right under the Police Tenure Act. Kessler had the option of a public or closed hearing and opted for the open session.
The hearing was conducted by attorney Samuel A. Falcone Jr., Pittston, who was the special hearing master. Falcone acted as a judge, listening to testimony that could lead to Kessler's termination or exoneration.
'Fell out of the holster'
The man who dropped the gun stood behind Kessler and his attorney, Joseph P. Nahas, during most of the hearing. When asked after the hearing if he knew the man's identity, Kessler said he did not, saying only that the man is a supporter.
The incident occurred when Nahas was cross-examining borough Mayor Mary Lou Hannon, who had been answering questions from Nahas after first being examined by attorney Joseph J. Joyce of the law firm of Elliott Greenleaf & Dean. The law firm has been retained as special counsel for the borough on matters involving Kessler. Other witnesses in attendance were outside the building so they could not hear testimony.
Nahas was asking Hannon about purchasing procedures involving the state's COSTARS program.
"The borough secretary - does she do..." Nahas was asking when the pistol hit the concrete floor with a loud, hollow sound.
Nahas turned and saw the pistol on the floor behind him. He immediately told the man that he had to leave.
"It fell out of the holster and it wasn't chambered," said the man, who quickly picked up the pistol.
After the gun owner left the building, Nahas resumed his questioning of Hannon, but special counsel attorney John G. Dean interrupted.
"Let's take a break and go into executive session," Dean suggested to Falcone, who agreed to the request.
Moved to courthouse
The attorneys from both sides moved to the office area and held a short session, returning to the main room in about five minutes. The other witnesses were asked to return to the meeting room. Nahas stood with Dean and made a statement to the crowded room that was filled with print and broadcast news media, Kessler supporters and borough residents.
"This evening's hearing, due to many reasons right now, and those reasons are primarily the safety of everybody in this room - the safety of the press, the safety of counsel, the safety of the mayor, the safety of my client, the stenographer and ourselves," said Nahas. "We're in a very small room made of concrete. If a gun were to be chambered and would land on concrete, like it just did, we could be injured. We're concerned for your safety. Mistakes happen all the time with firearms, and to have one made in this room of concrete and steel I think could be fatal for many people."
Nahas continued that a safer venue needs to be found.
"I am going to try to reserve a conference room at the Schuylkill County Courthouse," said Nahas. "There will be a lot more room for everyone and it will be air conditioned. It will still be a public hearing and the courthouse will provide us with security. It will be more amenable for everyone."
"I'm assuming there is no objection?" asked Falcone.
"There is no objection, Mr. Falcone, and I'm in complete agreement with Mr. Nahas," said Dean.
"At this point, this hearing will be suspended pending the rescheduled date at the Schuylkill County Courthouse," said Falcone.