Bucks County officials settle LGBT-related lawsuit for $52K

Bucks County officials settle LGBT-related lawsuit for $52K

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 Bucks County officials recently authorized a $52,207.50 payment to settle a federal lawsuit arising from a high-profile Center City gay-bashing incident in 2014.

Kathleen O’Donnell, 63, of Norristown, claimed she lost a job due to Bucks County officials violating her free-speech rights over a series of online comments about Kathryn Knott, who was convicted and served prison time for her role in assaulting a gay couple.  O’Donnell sued the county in 2016 and the case was settled June 6.

At their June 6 public meeting, Bucks County Commissioners Diane M. Marseglia and Charles H. Martin voted in favor of the payment, which will go to O’Donnell and her attorneys at the law firm of Kraemer, Manes & Associates in Pittsburgh.

The third commissioner, Robert G. Loughery, was absent from the meeting and didn’t participate in the vote, Martin said.

The settlement document won’t be released to the public until all three commissioners sign it, a county spokesperson told PGN. Thus, it remains unclear how much money will be paid to O’Donnell and how much will be paid to her attorneys.

While Knott was awaiting trial, O’Donnell authored a series of posts on Disqus under the avatar “Knotty is a Tramp.” The posts referred to Knott in the first person, allegedly giving the impression that Knott wrote them.

In her suit, O’Donnell accused Knott’s father, Karl E. Knott, of misusing his law-enforcement connections as police chief of Chalfont in 2015 when persuading Bucks County officials to investigate her posts.

Two Bucks County detectives, Martin McDonough and Mark Zielinski, visited O’Donnell’s workplace in Chester County and discussed the posts with her boss, causing O’Donnell to be terminated, she maintained. 

O’Donnell said her posts were a “parody,” not an attempt to impersonate Knott. The posts depicted Knott as a vain woman who believed she was “entitled” to brutalize gay men. For example, one post stated: “I’m an entitled princess who can beat up gay people if I want to.” Another posts stated: “Orange doesn’t suit my complexion,” referring to the color of prison garb.

In October, U.S. District Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg denied Bucks County’s request to dismiss O’Donnell’s case as meritless. It was headed for a jury trial before a settlement reached June 6.

Neither side had a comment for this story.

The 2014 gay-bashing incident became a cause célèbre in Philadelphia. Knott participated in the attack with Philip R. Williams and Kevin J. Harrigan, who pleaded guilty to various assault-related charges and were ordered to perform 200 hours of community service. However, Knott’s case went to trial and, in December 2015 a  jury found her guilty of three misdemeanors related to the incident. She was required to serve five months in county jail.

In May 2016, Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse, the two men who were assaulted, filed a civil suit against Knott, Williams and Harrigan in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. Haught was hospitalized for five days and suffered fractures to his jaw bone and around his eye. He had to have his jaw wired shut for eight weeks to repair his jaw bone. Hesse suffered cuts and bruises to his face and body. The suit was settled in November 2017 for an undisclosed amount of money. 

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