Lawyer, now prosecutor, accused of sex assaults on clients
A Pennsylvania county prosecutor was charged Wednesday with sexually assaulting women who were his clients in criminal and child custody cases when he worked as a defense attorney.
Bradford County District Attorney Chad Michael Salsman was charged with three counts of sexual assault, five counts of indecent assault, witness intimidation, obstruction, and promoting prostitution.
A grand jury heard women say he groped them, sought nude photos and pressured or forced them into sexual acts, sometimes on his office desk.
"Many of Salsman's clients struggled with addictions, had a history of being sexually abused, or suffered from other vulnerabilities which Salsman exploited," the jurors wrote in a report issued Friday. "He used his knowledge of their vulnerabilities to overcome their lack of consent and sexually assault them."
His lawyer, Sam Stretton, said Salsman denies all the allegations.
"And my investigation seems to support that proposition," Stretton said. "So we will vigorously try this case. This will not be a plea."
Stretton said he has found no evidence of forced sex.
"There was never any grabbing, improper touching," Stretton said. "There was never anything of that nature. Never any intimidation."
Authorities alleged Salsman stopped charging a client in a custody case after she began having sex with him. They said a woman told Salsman she had been raped, and he subsequently directed her to enter his office in Towanda through a back door and undress.
He is alleged to have told women to keep quiet about his attacks, and people who worked in his law firm told investigators they repeatedly saw female clients leave his office crying.
"He picked these victims because they didn't have another choice," state Attorney General Josh Shapiro told reporters at the Bradford courthouse. "Because he thought they would be easy to silence. And likely they would be less believed if they ever came forward."
Salsman was in custody at the nearby state police station and being processed Wednesday afternoon, Shapiro said.
He waived a preliminary hearing Wednesday, and bail was set at $500,000. Salsman expected to post 10% of it and be released later in the day, Stretton said.
Salsman's status as district attorney has not changed, and his political fate will be up to residents of Bradford County and the board that investigates allegations of wrongdoing against lawyers, Shapiro said.
"We're going to try to get an early trial," said Stretton, Salsman's lawyer. "If we win, we win. If we lose, of course there's not much we can do to save his position."
Salsman, a 44-year-old Republican, has been the top prosecutor in the rural county along the New York line since early 2020.
The attorney general's office said one of the assault allegations dates to the period between Salsman's November 2019 election and his swearing-in as district attorney. The witness tampering charges are for actions that allegedly occurred during Salsman's tenure as district attorney.
"He has compromised the sacred public trust, and he is not fit to serve as district attorney," Shapiro said. "He is not fit to serve as the chief law enforcement official in this county. And believe he can no longer perform his duties."
The grand jury said there were other women who recounted similar attacks, but those cases occurred too long ago for criminal charges. Salsman began practicing law in 2001.
The case was referred to the attorney general's office in late 2019 by a former Bradford County district attorney, the grand jury wrote.