TOWANDA — Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman entered a plea of “not guilty” and waived the formal arraignment in front of Lycoming Court Judge Marc F. Lovecchio in a virtual court proceeding on Monday morning.
Salsman faces two dozen charges, including three separate charges of sexual assault, five separate charges of indecent assault, twelve counts of intimidation of a witness or victim, two counts of obstruction of justice, and two counts related to prostitution.
The alleged crimes took place during Salsman’s time as a private attorney. The Republican was elected district attorney in 2019.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges on Feb. 3.
Shapiro said that a grand jury heard from “numerous women who were coerced, manipulated, and sexually assaulted by Salsman while he served as their defense attorney. He repeatedly leveraged his power over his victims, who he counseled in criminal and child custody cases, by taking advantage of their vulnerabilities, exploiting them, and then forcing them into submission and silence.”
According to the findings of facts from the grand jury, Salsman “used his knowledge of (his clients) vulnerabilities to overcome their lack of consent and sexually assault them. In one case, Salsman assaulted a woman who he knew had been the victim of a prior violent rape. In another case, Salsman assaulted a woman who faced incarceration if Salsman did not help her.”
“Many of his clients struggled with addiction, some even had a history themselves of being sexually assaulted. These are the people that Salsman targeted for his own sick gratification,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro stressed that the five victims in this case came forward on their own and provided independent accounts of Salsman’s crimes.
“Five women, independent of one another, experienced the same pattern of advances, coercion, and assault at the hands of Mr. Salsman when he was a defense attorney. They had to rely on Salsman to be their advocate, to represent them at a time they felt powerless, and instead they were preyed upon,” said Shapiro.
“It’s critical to know that while these women shared similar stories of abuse, that’s actually where their commonalities ended. Most didn’t know one another and had no communication with the other victims,” Shapiro said later on in his press conference at the Bradford County Courthouse.
Salsman declared his innocence in a statement on Feb. 5.
“I am committed to going to trial and vigorously defending myself against these false allegations. I categorically deny the allegations. Anyone who knows me knows that the picture the attorney general is painting is not Chad Salsman. My attorney and I will present evidence of my innocence at the trial,” Salsman wrote.
Salsman has also refused to resign from his office.
“I will attempt to continue to serve as long as I can as your district attorney. I have turned over the trial and courtroom work to my assistants while all this is pending,” he wrote. “I will remain as district attorney and make policy decisions and administer the office. The Drug Task Force that I created will continue to work unabated and all the other policies and programs my administration has implemented to benefit Bradford County this past year will continue as well.”
There have been many calls for his resignation, including from Bradford County’s Child Advocate, the Abuse and Rape Crisis Center and a newly formed group of women voters.
“In this role, I have asked children and their families to trust the system. I have asked parents (and guardians) to entrust their children to me, and to you, as we prepare them to trudge through the darkest moments in their young lives,” Bradford County Child Advocate Megan S. Wells wrote.
“A horrifying majority of these children are victims of sexual assault. I have asked parents to send their vulnerable children into a room with a prosecutor from your office. I join these meetings when requested, where these children are prompted to recount the horrors they have suffered,” she continued. “I have asked that they trust you to adequately explore their stories and ready them to so bravely testify against their abusers.”
Wells then explained that she now feels she can no longer ask her clients to trust Salsman.
“Given the various findings outlined in the Grand Jury’s Presentment No. 14, I cannot in good conscience ask these parents to send their precious, vulnerable children to you. I cannot ask that they entrust you to seek justice for their babies while these charges are pursued,” she wrote. “I appreciate that you are innocent until proven guilty, that is indeed a hallmark of our criminal justice system.”
Then in underlined font, Wells asked Salsman to step away from his office.
“But you need not act in your role as district attorney until proven guilty. You can spare these children and these families additional trauma by taking leave from your office, in whatever form you so choose, while you pursue your various rights as a criminal defendant.”
Salsman, who is being represented by attorney Samuel C. Stretton of West Chester, is currently free on $500,000 bail as he awaits trial.