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Local blogger pleads guilty to assault charge

Jason Kessler found guilty of striking a man while petitioning for removal of Charlottesville Vice Mayor

<p>Kessler (center) could serve up to 12 months in jail, receive a maximum fine of $2,500 or both.</p>

Kessler (center) could serve up to 12 months in jail, receive a maximum fine of $2,500 or both.

Charlottesville right-wing blogger Jason Kessler pleaded guilty to assault April 6 in Charlottesville General District Court. Charlottesville native Jay Taylor filed the charge of a class one misdemeanor against Kessler after Kessler punched him in the face in January.

According to the initial criminal complaint filed by Taylor, Kessler was standing on the Downtown Mall petitioning for the removal of Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy from Charlottesville City Council when Taylor approached him.

“I ask[ed] to read the petition and when I did I saw that it was a petition to remove Wes Bellamy from City Council,” Taylor’s complaint said. “I said he was acting like an [a—hole] upon which he punched me in the face.”

Kessler and Taylor were acquainted from working together on a film project a few years ago. In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, Taylor said he did not know Kessler in his capacity as an activist, however, and took issue with the nature of Kessler’s argument.

“My next sentence was going to be ‘why are you doing this?’ ‘what are you really doing?’ but before I could get that out, he slugged me and I called the police,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, after he called the police, Kessler left the scene but returned to apologize and assure he would make up for the situation. When the police arrived, Kessler allegedly changed his argument and claimed Taylor was acting aggressively and that his response was warranted.

Kessler and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Taylor filed for charges of assault the afternoon of Jan. 22 shortly after the incident occurred that morning, around 10:50 a.m.

Kessler then filed his own complaint of assault against Taylor, claiming he was acting peacefully when Taylor approached him in an aggressive manner. Kessler said he felt threatened and acted in self-defense.

Both parties were called to appear in court March 3. In response to a request from the prosecution, the judge dismissed Kessler’s complaint that Taylor assaulted him due to nearby surveillance video footage that disproved his claim that Taylor was behaving aggressively. Taylor was dropped as a defendant in the case and made a witness to the charges against Kessler.

After pleading guilty April 6, Kessler exited the court and reaffirmed his claim that Taylor acted aggressively. The video footage the court used to dismiss Kessler’s claim is still being used as evidence and has not been released to the public.

“When [the video is released], I think … he’ll be hard pressed to continue his claim that I was being aggressive,” Taylor said.

Taylor started a GoFundMe to help pay for the legal expenses he incurred having to respond to Kessler’s counter charge. Taylor hired an attorney to defend him as well as an investigator to identify a witness at the original confrontation.

“I hired an investigator and an attorney to defend me from this — what turned out to be — fabricated charge and an investigator to help me track down this witness,” Taylor said. “I’m out about $2,500, plus the time that I’ve lost from work and stuff — I’m self employed.”

Kessler gained local attention last fall by resurfacing and publishing old tweets from Vice Mayor Bellamy’s Twitter account that included homophobic, sexist and racist language. Bellamy apologized for his tweets, and resigned from his teaching position at Albemarle High School and his seat on the Virginia State Board of Education.

Kessler used the tweets as part of the argument for his petition to remove Bellamy from City Council. The petition was dismissed by a judge in the Charlottesville Circuit Court March 8.

Kessler will be sentenced in court for the charges of assault April 27. He could serve up to 12 months in jail, receive a maximum fine of $2,500 or both.