Pennsylvania DA pleads not guilty to sex charges: How Bradford County and community react

Some people are calling for Chad Salsman to resign and others are waiting for his case to play out in court as he faces multiple sex crime charges.

Jeff Murray
Elmira Star-Gazette

Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman pleaded not guilty Monday to all criminal charges against him tied to alleged sexual abuses against female clients while he was in private practice.

In the weeks since charges against Salsman, 44, were announced — they include multiple counts of sexual assault, intimidation of a witness or victim, obstruction of justice, and prostitution — the case spurred a spectrum of responses in the community, from crime victim advocates calling for his resignation to fellow attorneys maintaining the judicial process should run its course.

Salsman, who was elected DA of the Pennsylvania county in 2019, has vowed not to step down.

On Monday, the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas, which was assigned to hear Salsman's case, conducted a virtual arraignment on the charges.

A Pennsylvania state trooper escorts Bradford County District Attorney Chad Salsman into Magisterial District Court in Towanda on Feb. 3 for his initial arraignment on sexual assault and other charges.

Daniel Dye, assistant chief deputy attorney general with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office, told the court Salsman waived the formal arraignment but submitted a not-guilty plea to all counts.

Neither Salsman nor his attorney, Samuel Stretton, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, took part in the virtual arraignment.

Five of the women Salsman allegedly assaulted testified regarding the accusations before a grand jury, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office is prosecuting the case.

Legal community's cautious response

Salsman said he plans to remain in office until his criminal case is decided, but would limit himself to administrative duties and let his assistants handle all prosecutions for now.

The accusations against him came to light earlier in 2019 when someone filed a complaint with Pennsylvania State Police at Towanda, according to former District Attorney Daniel Barrett, who had previously announced he would retire at the end of that year.

Since Salsman was a fellow attorney practicing in Bradford County and also a candidate for election to fill the district attorney seat, Barrett said he referred the complaint to the attorney general to avoid any conflict of interest.

Barrett declined further comment on the accusations, and others in the legal community were also circumspect about Salsman's case.

"The Bradford County Bar Association firmly believes in the rule of law and has full faith in the judicial system," bar association President Carrie L. Donald said. "Any additional questions should be directed to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania."

Former Assistant District Attorney Albert Ondrey, who ran against Salsman in both a primary and the general election, repeated the Bradford County Bar Association statement.

Calls for Salsman's resignation

Not every observer is reluctant to comment on the situation.

A voter group known as the Strong Women of Bradford County issued a statement calling for Salsman to resign.

Even though the organization recognizes every defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, it contends Salsman's continued presence in the district attorney's office will make it more difficult for justice to be served.

More: What we know about Pa. DA and the sexual assault charges he faces

"The general public is not required to pretend that such accusations have no impact beyond Mr. Salsman himself," the statement said. "They affect the people and the work of the district attorney's office, and they affect the people of Bradford County individually and as a whole — regardless of political affiliation — because our county DA is a man credibly accused of serious crimes spanning many years and many vulnerable victims.

"The cloud of doubt and distrust cannot help but taint every case in that office and harm every victim in those cases — particularly those involving sex crimes," the statement continued.

POLITICS:Cuomo was a national star for COVID response. How it was upended by nursing home deaths

Political fallout unclear

Salsman is a Republican, as are most voters in Bradford County — 72% voted for Donald Trump last November — but county Republican Committee Chairman Richard Harris said it's too early to talk about replacing him.

"I'm not thinking of the legal ramifications. It's not up to the party to remove him or anything like that," Harris said. "I'm not going to speculate on what's going to happen in the future. As far as I'm concerned, everyone is innocent until proven guilty."

The Bradford County District Attorney's Office works closely with other county agencies. In fact most of them are housed under the same roof at the Bradford County Courthouse in Towanda.

For subscribers:How Pennsylvania investigators built a sexual assault case against the Bradford County DA

It hasn't been easy maintaining normal county operations while dealing with such a major disruption and outside scrutiny, said Daryl Miller, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners.

"From an operational standpoint, things are going about as smoothly as can be expected," said Miller, who added he believes Salsman made the right decision handing over all legal duties to his assistants.

"I think early on when this first broke, there was a lot of uncertainty from people wondering what was next," Miller said. "Our human resources department has been available to help people. From what I've observed, things are pretty much back to normal."

Salsman remains free on bail while his case is pending and the scheduling of his next court appearance.

Follow Jeff Murray on Twitter @SGJeffMurray. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.