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June 15, 2018

Bucks County settles lawsuit with woman who mocked Kathryn Knott online

Kathleen O’Donnell alleged officials conspired against her for posting online comments about Knot, who was convicted in Philly gay-bashing case

Kathryn Knott Courts
Kathryn Knott Philadelphia Police Department/.

Kathryn Knott.

Bucks County officials have agreed to settle a lawsuit with a resident who posted derogatory comments online about Kathryn Knott, the woman convicted in the September 2014 assault of a gay couple in Center City Philadelphia.

Kathleen O’Donnell, 63, of Norristown, filed a lawsuit in May 2016 against Knott; her father Karl Knott, the former Chalfont police chief; former District Attorney David Heckler; and two Bucks County detectives. She alleged that the Knotts coordinated investigative efforts through Heckler and the detectives to identify O'Donnell and pressure her employer because of the online comments. O'Donnell was fired.

Knott is now chief of police of the Central Bucks Regional Police Department.

Minutes from a county commissioners' meeting on June 6 show a payment of $52,207.50 was approved to Kathleen O’Donnell and the law firm that represented her — Kraemer, Manes & Associates of Pittsburgh. Julia Kelchner, public information officer for Bucks County, confirmed to PhillyVoice that the payment was approved and that the agreement was going forward, but did not provide additional information.

Sean Ruppert, O'Donnell's attorney, said the settlement with the county resolved the claims against the former district attorney and two detectives. O'Donnell also has settled with the Knotts, but the details of that settlement are not public because they are private parties to the lawsuit.

Knott was sentenced to 5-10 months in prison in February 2016 for simple assault and a related charge for the 2014 beatings of Andrew Haught and Zachary Hesse. She served 5 months and was released in July 2016.

Prosecutors said Knott had punched one of the victims. The incident garnered national media coverage, specifically because the two victims were gay and Knott had used homophobic language on social media in the past.

The two other defendants in the case, Kevin Harrigan and Philip Williams, accepted plea deals instead of going to trial. Both men were ordered to complete community service and neither served jail time.

During coverage of Knott's participation in the attack, O'Donnell created an account on Disqus.com with the username “Knotty is a Tramp” and commented on the many news reports about the incident and subsequent trial.

According to court records, the following comments were posted by O'Donnell's account:

"I’m an entitled princess who can beat up gay people if I want to"

"I’m an entitled princess who does not deserve to be charged with the beat down of some gay guys."

"My daddy the chief of police will get me out of those charges because I’m an entitled girl and don’t deserve any charges or jail time. Orange doesn’t suit my complexion."

O'Donnell's lawsuit alleged that two detectives, Mark Zielinski and Martin McDonough, met with her employer, Walker Parking Consultants, and told her boss that she was harassing someone on the internet.

The detectives brought O’Donnell in and told her, in front of her boss, that she needed to stop and told her employer that O'Donnell's behavior might give the company negative publicity, according to the lawsuit. O'Donnell was fired the same day. (O'Donnell has since retired, according to her attorney.)

O'Donnell's suit alleged that Karl Knott used his former position as police chief to coordinate the effort that led to her termination. She accused him of contacting the district attorney to help identify the individual behind the account.

The lawsuit also alleged that the two detectives met with Kathryn Knott and obtained a court order to get the IP addresses behind the posts before meeting with O'Donnell and her boss.

The Knotts tried to get O'Donnell's suit dismissed, arguing there was no evidence of a conspiracy and that they simply complained to law enforcement about someone impersonating Kathryn Knott online. In October 2017, a federal judge refused to dismiss the suit, ruling that there was enough evidence to potentially prove there had been a conspiracy.

Ruppert said that when the settlement was reached, the two sides were still in discovery and did not yet have a trial date scheduled.