Soltani trial begins with ex-state rep. grilling officer who arrested him
At Merrimack County Superior Court Tony Soltani (right) cross examines Epsom police officer James Kear, who arrested Soltani after the high-speed chase of another motorist last year; Monday, February 11, 2013. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Tony Soltani spent nearly 3½ hours yesterday questioning the Epsom officer who arrested him last spring on charges that he inserted himself into a high-speed police chase, and he will continue the cross-examination this afternoon.
Officer James Kear testified during the first day of Soltani’s trial in Merrimack County Superior Court on a felony charge of reckless conduct and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. The charges stem from an incident last April when Soltani, then a Republican state representative and Epsom’s town counsel, allegedly drove at high speeds between Kear’s police cruiser and a car that Kear was pursuing.
Soltani, a lawyer who is representing himself at trial, has said he was trying to help Kear apprehend the suspect, who fled from a traffic stop. But prosecutors say Soltani’s actions put the public at risk.
Soltani was disjointed and at times argumentative yesterday as he grilled the officer on issues ranging from police booking procedures to whether Kear’s inventory of the contents of Soltani’s vehicle was comprehensive to whether Kear recalled what was inside a prescription bottle Soltani had at the time of his arrest. (He didn’t.) Prosecutor Michael Valentine raised roughly two dozen objections during Soltani’s questioning for various reasons.
“Officer Kear, since the date of this arrest, how many times have you followed my children around town?” Soltani asked toward the end of the day.
“I don’t follow your children around town,” Kear responded.
Soltani suggested at several points what he’s said in the past, that he thinks his arrest was retaliation by the Epsom police. He said he filed a complaint against Kear mere hours before the arrest and had told the chief that the Epsom Police Department should be investigated by outsiders.
“You have a moral compass built into you, and that moral compass will be your guide, to do the right thing,” Soltani told the jury yesterday.
Kear said he didn’t know about Soltani’s complaint against him at the time of the arrest, and he didn’t recall any conversations among town officers about Soltani calling for an outside investigation.
And Valentine told the jury yesterday that the case is actually quite simple: Soltani drove at speeds over the legal limit into oncoming traffic, forcing other vehicles to swerve to avoid a collision.
“This should be a fairly simple and straightforward case, though . . . nothing at trial is ever uniformly straightforward,” said Valentine, an assistant Hillsborough County attorney.
The Hillsborough County prosecutor’s office is handling the case because at the time of his arrest, Soltani was a state representative and a member of the Merrimack County delegation that sets the county government’s budget, including the budget for the Merrimack County Attorney’s office. Soltani lost his seat after finishing third in a Republican primary for a two-seat district last September.
Kear testified yesterday that on the night of April 6 last year, he conducted a traffic stop on a silver Mercedes in Epsom that then sped away. He pursued the car but found a Dodge Neon – driven by Soltani – between them at one point, crossing a double-yellow line and veering as if trying to force the Mercedes off the road.
Kear said he passed Soltani but broke off pursuit of the Mercedes near the Pembroke town line. Soltani then drove up, and Kear said he told Soltani twice to pull over.
According to Kear, Soltani initially responded, “Do you know who I am?” and later, when a state trooper arrived at the scene, Soltani asked the trooper to call Col. Robert Quinn, the head of the state police. The trooper declined to do so, Kear said.
Kear recalled Soltani also saying, after he was arrested, “Do you want to see how a career can end real quick?”
When Soltani was charged with reckless conduct last May, the indictment alleged he was traveling up to 110 mph. But a Merrimack County grand jury last month handed up a superseding indictment instead saying Soltani was traveling “in excess of the posted speed limit.”
Kear estimated yesterday that Soltani was traveling about 80 mph during part of the chase – testimony challenged by Soltani.
“Please show me your calculation, or is it a guess? Which one is it?” Soltani demanded.
“Again, I don’t have any physical evidence or a calculation, but based on my common sense – I know the time it takes to get from Elkins Road to North Pembroke Road, and the amount of time it took you to get there – I would say you were exceeding the speed limit,” Kear replied.
Soltani continued: “Please answer my question. My question is, which is it, a guess or a calculation?”
Kear replied, “I already told you, it’s a guess.”
Soltani’s trial is scheduled to resume this afternoon at 1.
(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)