A criminal case involving a former Minocqua police officer’s alleged failure to respond to an intoxicated individual’s repeated pleas for help for a female acquaintance, who claims she was sexually assaulted as a result of the delay, was resolved Monday afternoon when Oneida County circuit judge Mike Bloom accepted a plea agreement that ensures the now former officer’s career in law enforcement is over.
Kaleb J. Punzel, 29, entered no contest pleas Monday to three counts of false swearing, which is a criminal misdemeanor, and agreed not to request expungement at any point in the future. Punzel also agreed to give up all of his law enforcement certifications, effectively ending his career as a police officer, and will pay fines, restitution and costs totaling approximately $19,000.
He was originally charged with five counts of perjury before the court and one count of misconduct in office-failure to perform known duty, all felonies. Pursuant to the plea agreement, three of the five perjury counts were amended to false swearing, and the remaining counts were dismissed but read in for purposes of sentencing. Punzel resigned from the Minocqua Police Department in May after being placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation into the incident that prompted the charges.
The majority of the funds Punzel is required to remit will go to the man he detained on the evening of June 11, 2020, and ultimately cited for operating while intoxicated. That man was convicted of reckless driving, however his conviction has since been vacated. The man is to receive $16,850.61, which represents his expenses in defending himself in the reckless driving case.
The false swearing counts are related to inaccurate testimony Punzel gave in a court proceeding related to the reckless driving case. 
No charges were ever filed against the man the woman claims assaulted her that evening/early morning, a decision the woman protested as part of her victim impact statement to the court.
“I have suffered an immense injustice at the hands of the system that seems to permeate in this beautiful Northwoods I’ve spent all of my life loving,” she said. “I’ve seen complete indifference for my safety and consideration...”
“I never knew the district attorney doesn’t even have to bother talking to victims before making decisions about their cases,” she added. “I guess it’s easy to pick the slam dunks and the comfortable ones. I’d like to know how many sexual assaults he (district attorney Mike Schiek) has prosecuted.”
Later, she added that she believes there is “a massive problem with violence (against) women in these two counties (Oneida and Vilas).”
On the evening in question, June 11, 2020, the woman said she was showing a property located in “an extremely remote” part of the county, “even by Northwoods standards” to a potential buyer. She and the potential buyer (the individual who later tried to get Punzel to respond to his concerns about the woman’s safety) accepted food and alcohol from the seller, she said. 
She noted that she has accepted food and beverages from sellers in the past but deeply regrets accepting refreshments on this occasion.
“I still carry a lot of shame for that decision,” she said.
In her statement, special prosecutor Catharine White of Shawano County indicated both the woman and the potential buyer told her they were “surprised by the degree of impairment” they experienced after consuming this food and drink.
“Both of them suspected that there was more that was given to them than simply alcohol,” the prosecutor said. 
For her part, the woman said her last memory is of her legs “going out” from underneath her. She said she awoke some hours later to find police on scene and has no memory of what took place in the interim.
She went on to explain that she went to the emergency room but did not immediately undergo a sexual assault examination because there was no SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner)?unit available in Oneida County at that time. Approximately 36 hours later, she traveled to Weston for the exam, but by that time she had showered.
She also relayed information she has received from the prospective buyer over the last two years as she has had to piece together what took place that evening/morning. She said the prospective buyer told her that he also lost consciousness at some point that evening, and when he awoke, he witnessed the seller taking actions that caused him to become extremely concerned for the woman’s safety. He left the residence and called 911, eventually coming into contact with Punzel who detained and then arrested him. 
In her statement, White described the prospective buyer as a disabled veteran and noted that he was very traumatized by his experience trying to convince Punzel to go to the residence and check on the woman’s welfare.
White also noted that the prospective buyer suffered a stroke in August 2022, more than two years after the June 2020 incident, and attempted to draw a connection between the two events despite the considerable passage of time between them.
This prompted defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn to accuse White of knowingly violating the plea agreement. 
“Now we are responsible for a stroke?” he asked, noting that there is no evidence that Punzel’s conduct in June 2020 “was a proximate cause” of a stroke that took place more than two years later. 
Hirschhorn threatened to file a motion to withdraw his client’s plea, which he noted his client chose to enter against his advice, if White did not conform her remarks in accordance with the plea agreement. 
For her part, White explained that she was trying to offer the court information on the impact this incident had on the man, as he was unable to be present for the sentencing hearing.
In his sentencing statement, Hirschhorn read from a transcript of recordings made while officers questioned the woman on the evening/early morning in question. According to the transcripts, the woman repeatedly assured the officers that everything was fine. (In her statement, the woman stressed that she was under “duress” at that time of the questioning).
Later, he noted that the district attorney “is a conscientious person who took a look at all of the evidence and decided (this) was not a prosecutable case.”
No matter the district attorney’s decision, Punzel is not responsible for what occurred that evening, he added.
“Whatever happened to (the alleged victim) that night or that morning, it’s not fair to blame it on Kaleb Punzel,”?he said. “(Punzel) was doing his job when he encountered (the prospective buyer) who was arrogantly, obnoxiously and overwhelmingly impaired,” he argued, noting that the prospective buyer was “out of control” and refused to follow instructions. 
Punzel alerted dispatch that he had a potential conflict (as the seller was his contractor on a bathroom remodeling project) but there was a significant delay in backup arriving to help due to “very thin” law enforcement coverage in the remote area where this incident took place and the fact that it was very early morning at the time, he added.
Punzel was caught “between a rock and a hard place” as, due to the conflict of interest with the seller, any decision he made as to arrest or not arrest (the seller) would have been questioned, he added.
Hirschhorn also noted that Punzel has no prior history of significant complaints and for him to give up “a career that had great promise” is very consequential.
Given his opportunity to address the court, Punzel declined to make a statement.
Before accepting the terms of the plea agreement and pronouncing sentence, Bloom noted that many members of the general public mistrust the government and various governmental institutions and agencies, and the counts on which Punzel was to be sentenced involve a governmental function (offering testimony in a court of law). Conduct like what took place in this case damages the public’s perception of the justice system, he noted.
He went on to add that, based on the information before him, “it’s not known whether immediate action by Mr. Punzel would have prevented what happened to (the woman)” or not. 
Ultimately, Bloom said he believed the plea agreement worked out between the parties holds Punzel “accountable” for his conduct and adopted all of the terms as presented.
Earlier this year, the woman filed a notice of claim against the town of Minocqua, the Minocqua Police Department, Punzel, and the man she alleges to have assaulted her. The status of those civil matters remains unclear at this time.
Heather Schaefer may be reached at [email protected]