Kathryn Knott, Dad, Bucks County Sued for $5 Million for “Retaliation” Over Anonymous Internet Comments
Bucks County’s Kathryn Knott will likely soon see the light of day after a judge sentenced her in February to five to 10 months in jail for her role in the September 2014 Center City gay bashing. But her legal troubles aren’t over. A Norristown woman has sued Knott and others for what she says is retaliation over what she thought were anonymous Internet comments she made about Knott and the case.
After Knott was arrested shortly after the attack on two gay men in Center City, the Internet let loose with negative comments about the now 25-year-old Archbishop Wood graduate. Some of the comments were regarding Knott’s father, Karl Knott, who has been a police officer in Bucks County for some 30 years, previously serving as the police chief in Chalfont and currently a captain in the Central Buck Regional Police Department.
Among the negative commenters was Norristown’s Kathleen O’Donnell, who set up an anonymous account on Disqus, a blog commenting tool used by countless websites, including Philadelphia magazine.
The name of O’Donnell’s account, according to court documents, was “Knotty is a Tramp,” and the profile image was an unflattering photo of Knott drinking directly from a large bottle of Fireball. O’Donnell used the account to post comments on news articles about Knott.
Nearly one year after she started the account, O’Donnell says that two Bucks County detectives paid her a visit at Walker Parking Consultants in Wayne, where she was working at the time.
According to O’Donnell’s complaint, filed on Friday afternoon in Philadelphia’s federal courthouse, the detectives told O’Donnell’s boss that they had obtained a court order that showed that O’Donnell was behind the account and that she had been posting from the office.
The complaint goes on to say that the detectives then met with the boss and O’Donnell together and that she admitted in front of him that she had been behind the Knotty is a Tramp account.
According to O’Donnell, the detectives threatened her with arrest if she didn’t stop posting the negative comments about Knott, and she told them that she would not post on the account again. She then deleted the Disqus account in question. The complaint states that the detectives told her that she had been “fraudulently impersonating” Knott, but O’Donnell maintains that it was a “parody account,” not an attempt to actually impersonate anyone.
The same day that the detectives came to her job, O’Donnell says that she was terminated. According to the complaint, detectives also told her boss about an incident in which she was accused of harassing a local bakery.
The lawsuit accuses the two detectives, Bucks County, and Bucks’ District Attorney David Heckler of violating her First Amendment right to free speech, among other alleged Constitutional violations and goes on to claim that those defendants as well as Knott and her father were part of a conspiracy. According to the complaint, the group “acted with a common purpose to silence O’Donnell’s lawfully and constitutionally protected speech.”
“We hear a lot of people complaining about the First Amendment when people don’t like what you have to say,” says Pittsburgh-based attorney Sean Ruppert, who is representing O’Donnell. “They can’t shut you down for speaking your mind. She engaged in commentary on a news story, and the government reached into her life and she lost her job.”
O’Donnell is seeking compensatory damages of at least $150,000 and punitive damages of $5 million or more.
None of the defendants in the case were immediately able to comment, but one source close to the family says that Karl Knott was unaware of the lawsuit until we reached out.
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