Soltani grills Epsom police chief, scheduled to testify Tuesday
At Merrimack County Superior Court Tony Soltani cross examines Epsom police officer James Kear, who arrested Soltani after a high-speed chase of another motorist last year; Monday, February 11, 2013. (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
The former state representative and Epsom town counsel accused of illegally joining a police chase last year spent nearly an hour yesterday in court grilling his next-door neighbor, who also happens to be the town’s police chief.
Tony Soltani, a lawyer who is defending himself against felony charges of reckless conduct, questioned Chief Wayne Preve on his knowledge of police procedures, arguing that Preve’s department utilizes strong-armed tactics that would be acceptable in places like “Peru and Chile,” not here in the United States.
The two also sparred on Preve’s attitude toward a complaint made by Soltani against Epsom police Officer James Kear on April 5, the day before Soltani was arrested for disrupting Kear’s pursuit of a fleeing suspect. Soltani said Preve did not take his concerns seriously enough, while the chief countered that he takes all complaints seriously.
Soltani has said that Kear arrested him in retaliation for that complaint, and that as a former police officer, Soltani was trying to use his skills to help the police catch a potential criminal.
Also on Day 4 of the trial, Soltani, assisted by attorney Jason Dennis, called character witnesses from various walks of life, including law enforcement, local government, state government and bail and probation departments.
All testified to the honesty and integrity of Soltani on a day when objections and private meetings with Merrimack Country Superior Court Judge Richard McNamara became commonplace.
The trial will resume Tuesday because McNamara has other commitments today, and Monday is a federal holiday. Soltani said he will testify on his own behalf, and he will be followed by closing arguments, McNamara said.
The trial stems 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 cruiser and a car the officer was pursuing.
Four witnesses have already testified this week about the fear they felt on Route 4 as Soltani’s car, estimated to be traveling at 80 miles per hour, veered over the double yellow line, causing motorists to swerve off the road when Soltani’s car approached from the opposite direction.
Through his questioning of Preve, Soltani tried to poke holes in the police department’s credibility, saying the chief was leading a force that used methods that were too aggressive. He cited the April 5 incident, when Kear went to Soltani’s home to find a runway who, according to Soltani, had sought refuge there.
Soltani, sleeping at the time Kear arrived, maintained the officer was rude to his mother, leading Soltani to call Preve later that day to complain. He compared Kear’s behavior to that of the police from countries in which Soltani implied lack proper behavioral guidelines.
“Did I tell you,” Soltani asked, “that officer Kear was a ticking bomb ready to go off?”
“I don’t believe so,” Preve responded.
Later, Soltani asked, “Do you recall me saying that Officer Kear should not be a police officer in New Hampshire, especially in Epsom, New Hampshire?”
“No sir,” Preve responded emphatically.
“Do you remember,” Soltani continued, “me telling you that Officer Kear should get a position in Chile or Peru or in a foreign police department where he can kill people and get away with it?”
“No sir,” Preve said, again with confidence.
However, Preve’s tone grew softer when Soltani changed gears and tried to show that the chief should have documented Soltani’s accounts of Kear, filing it as an official complaint.
“Did you file a report after our conversation?” Soltani asked.
“Being the town attorney at that time, you would know a formal complaint is normally followed up in writing, and your conversation ended at that time,” Preve said. “We ask the person to follow up with a written statement so we have a formal complaint.”
“Did you ask me to come in and fill out a formal complaint?” Soltani asked.
“No, I did not, because I did not take that as a complaint, sir.”
“You did not take the fact that your officer’s conduct, according to the town attorney, this should not happen in the United States of America . . . take this as a formal complaint?”
Preve said he did not, since Soltani had heard secondhand about Kear’s behavior toward his mother. Plus, Preve said, he and Soltani had had conversations about police behavior before, adding to Preve’s belief that this latest complaint was not meant as a formal criticism.
“Ah, we’ve had this conversation about Officer Kear before, haven’t we?” Soltani asked.
“No, about the police department,” Preve answered.
No help at all
In earlier testimony yesterday, Kear, questioned for nearly 3½ hours on Day 1 of the trial on Monday, returned to the stand and heard an audio recording of his initial dispatch report during the chase April 6.
“We heard your voice saying that (Soltani’s car) was trying to stop the vehicle,” prosecutor Michael Valentine said. “Was that helping you?”
“Not at all,” Kear said quickly.
The defense called seven witnesses, all of whom testified about Soltani’s strong moral compass, including Lt. James Carney of the Weare Police Department, who praised Soltani for his work representing law enforcement.
“He’s well respected in the law enforcement community,” Carney said.
When asked by Valentine if he’d spoken to Soltani about the case prior to the trial, Carney said, “Yes. He said that he hadn’t done anything wrong, that he was trying to help a police officer and what the police officer was presenting about his driving was not accurate.”
Soltani, asked during a break if he planned to testify, said he would. He’s scheduled to be the final defense witness Tuesday, before final arguments are presented.
He acknowledged he used his car to block the suspect’s car, but said he was barely speeding, if at all, in a 50 mph zone. “I may have been going over 50, but I did it to protect myself and the oncoming traffic,” Soltani said.
When asked to explain, Soltani said, “I will testify to that when I get the chance.”
(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rayduckler.)