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Witness in Soltani case describes high-speed chase as ‘something you’d see in L.A. County’

Rep. Tony Soltani speaks against a bill on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. 

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Rep. Tony Soltani speaks against a bill on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor staff)

Four people took the stand yesterday to describe the fear and confusion they felt as they became witnesses to a high-speed car chase near the Epsom traffic circle last spring.

They took the stand in the third day of a trial against Tony Soltani, who is accused of inserting himself into a police chase and causing several cars to swerve off the road when he entered oncoming traffic.

Tammy Knutsen of Gilmanton said she feared for the safety of herself and her daughter, who was in the car with her, when she saw two cars and a police cruiser come up behind her pickup truck at a fast pace. She swerved off the road.

“I felt like I was in danger. I wasn’t sure where the car was going to go. . . . I pulled over to compose myself, because I was pretty upset; my daughter was in the car with me,” she said.

“We thought it was something you’d see in L.A. County, a high-speed chase,” said Steve Auger of Epsom, who was a passenger in a car with two friends when the chase passed them on Route 4.

Soltani, a lawyer who is representing himself in court, faces a felony charge of reckless conduct and a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. At the time of the incident in April, he was a Republican state representative and Epsom’s town counsel.

Soltani claims he was trying to help the officer orchestrate a rolling roadblock to stop the suspect, who fled from a traffic stop, but that the officer failed to follow through.

Order of the vehicles

During cross-examinations of the witnesses, Soltani tried to diminish their credibility by questioning repeatedly whether they accurately remembered in what order they saw the cars: whether the dark Dodge Neon, which he was driving, was directly behind a speeding silver Mercedes or whether the cruiser was between them.

None of the witnesses saw the entire chase, which started on Route 4 east of the traffic circle and continued south on Route 28. All four, however, said they saw multiple cars swerve into the shoulder of the northbound lane to avoid Soltani’s Neon, which was heading south in the wrong lane.

After admitting under lengthy cross-examination that her memories of some parts of the incident were not clear, Knutsen described what she remembered.

“I know that on that day, as I was driving down the road, there was a white car that passed me at a really high rate of speed, a black car that passed me at a really high rate of speed, and the two of them were driving down the road side by side at one point, with the black car on the left, and vehicles on the other side of the road were pulled over,” she said.

Husband and wife Richard and Tracy Davison of Chichester were driving with Auger that night. They submitted a joint statement to the police last month in which they said the Neon was chasing the Mercedes, with the police cruiser third. In court, both said that statement was incorrect, that the cruiser was between the two cars.

Soltani also repeatedly pointed to depositions the couple gave in his law office last month, in which they gave different statements from their testimonies yesterday, or contradicted each other.

He also repeatedly asked each witness about the timing of their interactions with the Epsom Police Department.

In his opening statements Monday, Soltani suggested his arrest was retaliation by the Epsom police for a complaint filed hours earlier, and remarks he made to the chief that the department should be investigated by outsiders.

Jason Dennis, an attorney assisting Soltani, spent significant time asking Auger which officers he spoke to and when. Auger repeatedly said he didn’t remember and isn’t familiar with any officers in town.

Dennis also implied that Auger has malicious reasons for testifying against Soltani. Auger worked as a firefighter in Epsom until 1998, when he was terminated. Dennis began to ask him whether he was unhappy with Soltani because of Soltani’s role as town counsel at the time, but Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Michael Valentine objected.

The fifth witness of the day was Trooper Ron Taylor of the New Hampshire State Police. Normally assigned to northern Merrimack County, Taylor was patrolling the Epsom area the night of the chase.

He arrived after the chase was over, when Soltani was in the back seat of the Epsom police cruiser in handcuffs. Soltani appeared upset and was yelling and gesturing for Taylor to approach and speak with him, Taylor said.

When he opened the door, Soltani asked him repeatedly to “call Bobby Quinn (and) tell him Tony Soltani is having trouble with the police again,” and asked, “Do you know who I am?” Taylor testified.

Taylor said he told Soltani that he wouldn’t call Col. Robert Quinn, the director of the state police, and “I told him if he had any issues with the officers, he should address them through the chief of the Epsom police. . . . He was looking at me disappointedly, and said, ‘That’s okay, I won’t hold it against you.’ ”

Soltani tried to connect Taylor’s report to the Epsom police department, asking whether he had read any of their reports of the incident before writing his own. Taylor said he had not.

Television coverage

Before trial began yesterday, Valentine asked Judge Richard McNamara to see whether any of the jurors had watched television coverage of the case that aired Tuesday night.

In an interview with WMUR, Soltani said he painstakingly cross-examined Epsom police Officer James Kear, the officer involved in the chase, because Kear was “being less than truthful” in his testimony and “has a very selective memory.”

Valentine said the statements violated the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, a statement McNamara shrugged off.

“I have no opinion on that matter, but I do want to ensure any verdict reached is based on evidence and testimony from this courtroom,” he said.

All of the jurors indicated they had not seen the news segment.

Valentine rested his case at the end of the day; the trial is scheduled to resume today at 9:30 a.m.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

What a waste of court time and tax payer money. Who cares if at one point he is ahead of the cruiser or behind it. It is a simple question - Was he driving the car that he was taken out of. The fine should equal double the court cost.

You got that right Jim. I read the other day a student at a college was suing the school because he received a C on a paper. We sue at the drop of a hat. I say pay all costs if you lose. This is a waste of taxpayer money. That is what they do in England. Folks and lawyers think twice about bringing these cases to court. It has cut down on a lot of these types of cases. And it also has cut down on the folks who sue over and over just to get the standard 40 grand payoff that they know companies will pay to avoid going to court.

I do not begin to understand how your comment about civil lawsuits remotely relates to Tony Soltani's criminal trial or to this article. Soltani was charged with crimes (including a felony) and he has denied his guilt and has exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial. Are you saying that he shouldn’t be entitled to a trial—we should just pronounce him guilty and be done with it? Or are you saying (based on your vast personal knowledge of the case) that he never should have been charged at all, even light of the witness testimony? Could you please explain specifically how, as both you and Jim said, this is a “waste of taxpayer money”?

Sorry Tommy, I did not mean to imply that Tony should not be afforded his right to defend himself. I can see where you might think that is what I meant. I did not. The reason for me that it is a waste of taxpayer money is that Tony will lose. He is just trying to get out of what he did. Here is a guy who is disabled and complained about his seat in the chamber because it would be hard for him to walk. Yet he thinks he is Mario Andretti and Robo Cop rolled into one and has the idea he can speed down the highway and risk innocent lives. What if he had killed a family that happened to be on the highway at the time? Then we have the cops got it in for me excuse because I guess there was a party at his house or something. Yeah he is wasting the taxpayers money. He should own up to what he did. So he will spend days trying to prove it was okay for him to do what he did and prove he got signaled out unjustly.

The problem I have with the case is this – was he driving the car? does he have the legal right to interject himself into a high speed police chase? He admits he interjected himself and from what I have read the officer took him out of his car at the end of the chase showing he was actually driving. His defense is he wants to discredit people who saw short time periods as if to say they can’t identify him as the driver, he already admitted he was driving. Next the world is after him, the police chief, the officer, the fireman and the state officer who refuses to make a call to the state police. Article says he “asked each witness about the timing of their interactions with the Epsom Police Department”, is he alleging that all these random people got together to frame him for something “HE” interjected himself into. Three 3 days in court time and none of this testimony has anything to do with the issue - was he driving the car and does he have the legal right to interject himself into a high speed police chase…... Article says “”Soltani claims he was trying to help the officer orchestrate a rolling roadblock””, so he obviously made a statement to the police about what he was doing. If he is now saying he was not driving (by discrediting the witnesses) how about another charge for filing false police reports.

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