Casper Vice-Mayor Bruce Knell Confronted on Alleged Slanderous Comments
Casper Vice-Mayor Bruce Knell was the subject of the first 20 minutes of the December 20, 2022 Casper City Council meeting, due to comments he's made regarding a story from K2 Radio News which alleged that Knell threatened to kill his ex-wife.
The story, written by K2 Radio News Reporter Tom Morton, stated that Knell, according to an affidavit from Lander Circuit Court, "borrowed an employee’s phone, called his ex-wife and said, 'When I get out of jail, I’m gonna kill you.'"
Morton also wrote that Knell "pleaded guilty to violating three protection orders and 'threaten death by phone,' was jailed, and violated his probation and was jailed again, according to Fremont County and state district court records."
Knell adamantly denied that he threatened to kill his ex-wife. He told K2 Radio News at the time that instead of threatening his ex-wife, what he actually said was "Why are you doing this, we have children together; why are you trying to do this; why are you trying to put me in jail?’”
Knell did go to jail for a time, after a Fremont County Sheriff's Deputy executed an arrest warrant for criminal contempt against Knell on October 1, 2016. He was released from jail on October 9 and was re-jailed on October 14 for violating bond conditions.
Morton wrote that on November 30, Knell plead guilty to the following protection order violations:
- Aug. 31, 2015 — “same location as petitioner/at or near petitioner’s residence.”
- Sept. 22 — “act intended to harass, bother, annoy, aggravate, intimidate, interfere with or cause petitioner to suffer undue stress or anxiety.”
- Aug. 31 — “communication by telephone.”
- Between Sept. 16 and Sept. 25 — “communication by other electronic means."
Knell, however, told K2 Radio News that he "was convicted of them; I never plead guilty. I fought them from day one. I spent $100,000 fighting them. It was all BS."
Court documents show that Knell did plead guilty, however.
Minutes from the 'Misdemeanor Judgment and Sentences' from Fremont County Circuit Court filed on December 1, 2015 state that:
“The court finds the defendant knowingly and intelligently entered said plea(s), was competent to enter the plea(s), that it was voluntarily and not entered as a result of threats, force or promises, that there is a factual basis supporting the pleas and that the defendant is guilty as charged in counts 1., 2., 3., & 5.”
Morton wrote that the first count was the threatening phone call, and the counts 2, 3 and 5 were the violation of a protection order. "Count 4, the 'communication by telephone' count, was dismissed."
Morton published the story on January 4, 2021, days before Knell was scheduled to be sworn into office with the Casper City Council.
Now Knell is on track to become the mayor of Casper, switching positions with current mayor Ray Pacheco.
Recently, Knell has made comments publicly, both in city council meetings and at social events, in which he has stated Morton was fired from his position with K2 Radio News as a result of the story. He also stated that K2 Radio News published a retraction to the story. Neither of which were true.
On Tuesday, during the public comments section of the Casper City Council meeting, Townsquare Media Market President Tom McCarthy spoke on behalf of Morton, confronting Knell on those comments and offering clarification to both Morton's status with K2 Radio News (of which Townsquare Media is the parent company), and to the definition of 'Retraction.'
"My remarks this evening are regarding the comments made by Councilman Knell during the December 6 Regular Session," McCarthy said. "During that meeting, Councilman Knell referenced an article written, quote, 'a couple of years ago.,' and a reporter losing their job following the publication of that article. I believe Mr. Knell was referring to K2 Radio reporter Tom Morton, for two reasons: First, it was Tom who, on January , 2021, first reported on Mr. Knell's multiple violations of protection orders and probation in Fremont County. Second, I've heard from multiple members of the community about Mr. Knell bragging to them about getting Mr. Morton fired from K2 Radio. As it happens, among those individuals, was my own wife who, at the Mills Summerfest, was told by Mr. Knell that he not only got Mr. Morton fired, but that he went above my head to do so.
"This was definitely news to me, as evidenced by the fact that Mr. Morton has not, in fact, ever been fired from K2 Radio, nor any other Townsquare Media brand. Further, Mr. Knell referenced a retraction that was, quote, 'never really seen by anybody,' in his comments two weeks ago. I suspect the reason the retraction wasn't seen by anybody is that it was never published. Why was it never published? Because neither Mr. Knell, nor his representatives, were able to produce documentation refuting any of the details in the article.
"So, while I may not have any means to rebuke him for his lies he tells in private, when Mr. Knell chose to make those lies a matter of public record, I'm compelled to respond in the same manner, and to set the record straight."
Mayor Pacheco then asked if the councilmembers had any comments, and Councilman Knell did.
"Just for the record," Councilman Knell began, "The retraction I spoke of was on the front page of the Casper Star [Tribune]. They gave me the voice that you wouldn't. So, that's the retraction I was talking about. They printed the truth in their paper. Uh, that article that Mr. Morton wrote wasn't the truth. It was mixed. It was twisted, if you will. So, for instance, just to be clear, since we're on the record, I never plead guilty to threatening to kill my ex-wife or anyone else. I plead guilty to making a phone call while there was a restraining order in place on both of us. But that phone call had nothing to do with that; that was an accusation that she let, which in divorces can be very contentious and not always truthful.
"So, to come out with a headline saying 'New Councilman Threatened to Kill his Ex-Wife,' was not only unfair, it was untrue. And that's what I've been fighting against since that article was written. Because once something hits the paper, people just believe it to be what it is. And my attorney did contact K2 Radio and when we threatened a lawsuit, we were assured that he would not be doing anymore reporting on me or on this council. And to this day, I've never seen an article from him. So I just assume that to be true."
In the article, entitled 'Court Records: New Casper City Councilman Violated Protection Orders, Was Jailed,' Morton wrote that an apology from Knell to his wife was filed with the court, in which Knell wrote that he was "Sorry - I'm sorry for threatening you and for harassing you. I never thought I'd be capable of that type of behavior...I will respect yours and the court's direction from here on and I will have no contact with you in any way."
McCarthy responded to Knell's comment that Morton hasn't written anything.
"I mean, a 5-second Google search would show you that Tom reports every single day for K2 Radio," he stated. "Also, I would encourage you to lookup the definition of 'Retraction,' as it refers to an organization retracting something that they reported. So unless the reporter that you referred to two weeks ago worked at The Star Tribune, The Star Tribune could not have possibly retracted anything. All of that being said, I'm not referring, I'm not even speaking to the substance of the article. Although your quote of the headline is completely false. I'm referring to the lies you've told about Tom Morton being fired, and nothing else."
Tom Morton, himself, also commented on Knell's accusations that he was fired from K2 Radio News.
"Tom sort of already stole my thunder on what Mr. Knell said two weeks ago," Morton said. "So I will jump over that cause I am the one who wrote the January 4, 2021 article to which Mr. Knell has referred. But some background is in order. After the November, 2020 general election, I began seeing comments on social media from newly elected ward council member Knell. They were often rude, inappropriate, and unbecoming of an elected public servant.
"One day in mid-December, I was waiting at the window of the Circuit Court clerk's office for some documents. A computer terminal was nearby. So I plugged in Mr. Knell's name in the statewide databases circuit and district courts. I obviously didn't know what was gonna show up. The docket in the Fremont County Court's database listed a charge of quote, threatened to inflict death by phone calls or other electronic or written communications.
"I was, of course, astonished by this and other offenses, including violating protection orders. The Fremont County Court's docket sheet did not link to entire documents. So I went to Lander to conduct research. Meanwhile, I looked up Mr. Knell's name in the public federal court database called Pacer, and found that he had filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in September, 2015. And in February, 2017, the judge refused to discharge his stated debts because of what she called bad faith on his part.
"I interviewed Mr. Knell. Mr. Knell never contacted me about the article from the time of publication to my long-planned-for retirement date of Friday, April 30th, 2021, nor from then to last June when Townsquare asked me to come back to work for them. Nor has he contacted me since because there was no contact or a request for a correction on a story he called 100% completely false.
"There was no retraction as he put it. There was nothing to retract. In his comments to the council two weeks ago, Mr. Knell also mentioned that I lost my job for writing the article. People have told me he brought this subject up of my alleged dismissal. I don't remember when I first heard about this, uh, saying, and this may have been in the last few months, but I do remember thinking, wow, how did I miss that? It the first sort of amused me...[But] I'm not bemused anymore.
"This is not just about criminal incidents or a failed bankruptcy petition that happened seven years ago, an article I wrote two years ago, Mr. Nell's performance on City Council or his failure to contact me. But he believed there were problems with the 2021 article. I do not know why. And it does not matter why. Mr. Knell persists in telling people this in that fiction about the article and my supposed job loss with an easily disproven set of clumsy lies. This is about Mr. Knell's current impugning me, my coworkers and Townsquare Media. Townsquare Media did not fire me. I'm still here."
Also there, was Councilman Knell's wife, who spoke to the council in defense of her husband, both criticizing the veracity of Morton's story and reiterating that Knell has never threatened anybody.
"My name is Stacy Knell, formerly known as Stacy Casper, who was a divorce attorney here in Casper for over 20 years," she stated. "Now, I have read the article, I've heard retractions and I've heard a lot on social media. But let me tell you one thing; Tom can say that he went up through Pacer and he looked through the records. But I can tell you, as an attorney who has reviewed all of the records in Fremont County, who has read all of the transcripts from the trial, that what he printed was not correct in any sense of the word.
"What he wrote was, frankly, for the most part, false. As Mr. Knell has said he did make a phone call. He did not threaten to kill anybody. He did not say or plead guilty to that charge. So the information provided by Tom in the article is largely false. There is some truth in it. I'm not saying that it's a complete falsehood. There is some truth in it, but as an attorney who has done domestic law for over 20 years, I can tell you that the number of false accusations in Circuit Court to get a leg up in District court during a divorce action; they're common, very common.
"And so to hear my husband called the liar essentially here today is not fair. It's not fair at all. And I think the article written by Tom was not fair. And I do appreciate Townsquare Media coming to his defense and it's saying that he was not fired. I don't know if it was fired or not. What I do know that what was printed was not correct. And so I would like this council to know that and the entire city of Casper to know that."
The full video of the public comment section of the Casper City Council can be seen below, as can the entire Council meeting: