Soltani acquitted of felony charge, guilty on misdemeanor counts
A Merrimack County Superior Court jury finds Tony Soltani guilty of misdemeanor reckless conduct, but not guilty of felonious reckless conduct; Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
Prosecutor Michael Valentine watches a Merrimack County Superior Court jury return just before they read the verdicts finding Tony Soltani guilty of misdemeanor reckless conduct, but not guilty of felonious reckless conduct; Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.
(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
A jury yesterday found former state representative Tony Soltani guilty of misdemeanor charges of reckless and disorderly conduct, but not guilty of a heavier felony charge of reckless conduct, for his role in a police chase last year.
The verdict, read about 10:30 a.m. at Merrimack County Superior Court, marked the conclusion of a six-day trial that included testimony from more than a dozen witnesses and several lengthy, at times emotional, statements by Soltani, a lawyer representing himself.
Soltani will be sentenced at a later date, but each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a fine of up to $2,000 – much lighter than the 31∕2- to 7-year sentence the felony charge could have brought. He said yesterday he plans to appeal.
Still, when asked how he felt about the verdict, Soltani said he felt “vindicated.”
“They dragged me through months and months of hanging a felony charge over my head, and with the kind of evidence they put on, I didn’t expect any guilty verdict,” he said. “But a misdemeanor is just a misdemeanor.”
Soltani was accused of endangering other drivers when he voluntarily involved himself in a high-speed police pursuit of a fleeing car in Epsom last April. He had maintained throughout the trial that he was trying to help. Soltani is a former police officer.
Prosecutor Michael Valentine had argued that, in addition to a misdemeanor, Soltani’s action constituted a felony because his car had been used as a deadly weapon. That the jury acquitted Soltani on the lone felony charge means they did not find the vehicle to meet the definition of a deadly weapon.
Despite that, Valentine said after the trial that he was pleased with its outcome.
“The jury clearly rejected Mr. Soltani’s various claims and his position in the community as a basis to excuse his conduct, and the verdict shows that a former State Representative and the former Town Attorney will be held accountable for his actions like every other citizen,” he wrote in a statement.
Throughout the trial, Soltani suggested there was more at play than just his participation in the chase. He repeatedly characterized the conduct of the officer who arrested him, James Kear, as unprofessional and dangerous, and he accused the Epsom Police Department of corruption for not having taken seriously at least one complaint he made against Kear before the chase.
Soltani said yesterday that the jury’s finding only confirmed those assertions.
“I feel relieved that the jury saw through the smoke and mirror of the felony charges, trumped up by the prosecutor with the vengeful web of lies sewn by the police chief and Mr. Kear,” he said. “I’m no felon. I did what my conscience dictated. And if the jury found that to be a misdemeanor that’s fine.”
Asked whether he thought the outcome of his trial would prompt any changes in how the Epsom Police Department operates, Soltani said he didn’t think so. “The town is going to be terrorized a little bit longer,” he said.
Epsom police Chief Wayne Preve has said the department handled Soltani’s complaints appropriately, and that his officers, including Kear, conduct themselves professionally and safely.
Soltani’s demeanor and behavior in court, including sporadic outbursts and occasional tears, animated his cross-examinations of witnesses and his own testimony.
Valentine would not comment directly on Soltani’s trial conduct, but the regularity of his objections – most days there were more than a dozen – was perhaps telling.
In his statement, Valentine wrote that, during the trial, Soltani “tried at length to shift the focus away from his actions by attacking the police department and blaming everyone but himself.”
In addition, Valentine voiced concern in court last week that Soltani had violated the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys by questioning the credibility of Kear’s testimony during an interview with WMUR. Judge Richard McNamara dismissed the complaint but Valentine can still file a formal complaint with the state’s attorney discipline board.
With the trial now complete, pending his appeal, Soltani said he plans to stay in Epsom; he has registered to run for the town’s select board. If a similar situation involving a police chase arose, he said, he would probably take the same action.
“If my conscience dictates, I’ll follow my conscience, absolutely,” he said.
A few hours later, though, in a Facebook posting about the verdict, he seemed less sure.
“I am questioning whether the moral compass instilled in us is outdated, and I need to readjust mine,” he wrote. “I can not see my children go through this torment, stalking and humiliation again. Must I still do as my conscience dictates? Must I still do what I believe to be right? What of the moral duty taught to us by the military and our churches? Are we no longer the Republic of Conscience?”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319 or