Colorado police officer acquitted of domestic violence charges

The Silverthorne police sergeant's wife had accused him of slapping her across the face while she was holding their infant son

Joel Victor Ponedel, 38.
Clear Creek County Sheriff’s Office/Courtesy photo

A six-member jury acquitted a Silverthorne police officer who was accused of misdemeanor domestic violence, ending a two-day trial in Clear Creek County court on Thursday, June 8.

After deliberating for almost five hours, the jury found Joel Ponedel, 38, of Evergreen, not guilty of all charges: third-degree assault, child abuse and harassment. Ponedel invoked his 5th Amendment right to remain silent and did not testify at the trial. The defense called no witnesses.

Ponedel, a sergeant at the Silverthorne Police Department, was arrested in February 2022. He had been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the trial. 

Silverthorne Town Manager Ryan Hyland said in a text message after the jury delivered the verdict that Ponedel will remain on paid administrative leave while the town reviews its human resources, organizational and police department policies to determine appropriate next steps.

In testimony that spanned both days of the trial, Ponedel’s wife accused her husband of slapping her across the face as she was cradling their newborn child in her arms at their home in Evergreen on Dec. 7, 2021.

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“Domestic violence happens behind closed doors,” Deputy District Attorney Stephen Potts said in closing arguments.

Potts told the jury that while the prosecution provided no physical evidence in the case, testimony is evidence under the law, and the testimony Ponedel’s wife, her friend and the district attorney’s investigator provided is enough for a conviction.

But the slap never happened, defense attorney Ryan Brackley said. The details of the alleged events don’t make any sense, he said in closing arguments. Therefore, he argued that the jury cannot come to a guilty verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.

“In this case, the fact that the story changed so much in material ways — the what, the why, the where, the when, the how — cannot leave you firmly convinced of this man’s guilt,” Brackley said.

The government failed to do its job to thoroughly investigate the alleged crimes, Brackley added, putting Ponedel’s wife “in a position of having to come and tell a story that’s not true.”

Ponedel and his wife met in January 2018, and the relationship progressed quickly, his wife testified during the first day of the trial. She moved in with Ponedel after four months, and the two married in spring 2019, having their son about a year and a half into the marriage, she said.

The relationship had trust issues from the start but grew increasingly worse leading up to the alleged assault, Ponedel’s wife said. She was a stay-at-home mom suffering from postpartum depression, she testified, and she and her husband were fighting daily.

Ponedel’s wife testified that the alleged assault occurred after she asked her husband to watch the baby so she could take an online exam — during a time when both her and Ponedel were studying for final exams associated with online degrees they were seeking. 

But Brackley questioned why this version of events was different from what she had originally told the district attorney’s investigator.

In an initial interview just weeks after the alleged slap, Ponedel’s wife told the investigator that the precipitating argument was related to a friend’s wife accusing Ponedel’s wife of having an extramarital affair with her husband. In the interview, she never mentioned an exam. Clips of a recording of that interview were played for the court.

Brackley also raised questions about why Ponedel’s wife said in that initial interview that she was downstairs — but later testified in court that she was upstairs.

His wife testified that the alleged slap happened in the morning and that she went to Denver later that day. But text messages show that she was home around 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., Brackley said, and somewhere between that time frame she also went to her therapist’s office in Frisco.

Brackley also asked Ponedel’s wife questions about her attempts to get back together with her husband in spring 2022, after charges were filed. In the hundreds, if not thousands of texts between the two over those months, there is no mention of a slap, he said, only mention of her hitting her husband. Ponedel’s wife has since filed for divorce.

Former Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor, whose retirement began earlier this month, observed the entire second day of trial. He declined to comment on the outcome.

Brackley said after the trial, “We appreciate the jury’s work.”

From the beginning, Brackley said, the defense has maintained that charges never should have been filed in the first place.

“Mr. Ponedel kept his head up and his dignity,” Brackley said. “We’re looking forward to him getting back to work with the town of Silverthorne.”

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