Kessler dodges disorderly conduct charge, man who spit on him pleads not guilty

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Nina Antony said the city couldn’t prosecute Jason Kessler for his words alone.
Staff photo Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony said the city couldn’t prosecute Jason Kessler for his words alone. Staff photo

The Charlottesville commonwealth’s attorney today asked a judge to not prosecute a disorderly conduct charge against Unite the Right rally organizer Jason Kessler stemming from the May 14 vigil at Emancipation Park, after torch-carrying white nationalists marched through it the night before.

And protester Jordan McNeish, who confronted the “you will not replace us” gang on May 13 and who was charged with disorderly conduct after spitting on Kessler the next night, pleaded not guilty. If he stays out of trouble for six months, that case will be dismissed.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Nina Antony said that Kessler showing up with a bullhorn at the candlelight vigil was protected speech and the evidence “cannot support a conviction.”

Judge Bob Downer did not immediately agree to the prosecution’s request and said he didn’t have to accept it. “I feel it would be a waste of time to reuse the nolle prosequi at this time,” he said.

With the events of August 12 clearly in mind, Downer said, “Freedom of speech comes at a great cost and we’ve all seen that cost in this community.”

Kessler, who’s become a regular in Charlottesville General District Court since he was charged with and convicted of punching Jay Taylor in January, stayed hidden away in a back room until his case was called. After the judge agreed to accept the prosecution’s request to not move forward with the charges, Kessler scurried out a back door of the courthouse.

His attorney, Mike Hallahan, said outside the courthouse that Kessler was exercising free speech. “He broke no law. It was the protesters that broke the law.”

Hallahan also said he had no qualms about representing someone like Kessler, who was chased by an angry mob on August 13. “I’ll take any criminal case from any side of the aisle,” he said.

“Mr. Kessler is a person we have absolutely no respect for,” said Antony. “He’s a very troubled person that we do not think fully understands the damage he’s caused this community and elsewhere, but he was not guilty of criminal conduct.”

In McNeish’s case, Antony said he stipulated there was enough evidence to find him guilty of spitting, but his record did not warrant further prosecution and his case would be put under advisement for six months. If McNeish says out of trouble, it will be dismissed February 21.