Closing arguments are being made this morning in the trial of a man accused of sexually assaulting a worker at the assistance center for homeless veterans at the former Northern Center grounds last January.
Robert C. Piringer, 55, is charged with two counts of second degree sexual assault with the use of force, as well as strangulation or suffocation, false imprisonment and battery. A jury of 12 women and one man was sworn in Tuesday to decide the case.
The victim was a worker at the center, who testified that she went to Piringer’s room at the center on the morning of Jan. 4 after having arguments with him over the phone the previous day and that morning.
She said she found him apparently drunk, and she tried to wake him, fearing for his safety since he had made suicidal statements previously.
Piringer got up and the two argued, according to her testimony. At one point, Piringer left the room to see if the doors of any of the other resident rooms were open, then returned and shut his door and told the woman to get on the bed. She testified that she refused and he pushed her hard onto the bed.
The woman said she curled up in a fetal position and held her clothes tightly as he tried to pull them off. A struggle continued and she was able to get up at one point and move toward a window to call for help, but was pushed back onto the bed.
She screamed for him to stop, while he ripped her underwear into pieces, she testified. Piringer would slap her and tell her to be quiet and also put his hand over her mouth and nose so she couldn’t breathe, according to testimony.
The alleged assault eventually ended with the announcement of a 10 a.m. meeting, and Piringer knew people would be looking for the woman. According to her testimony, he got her to promise to come back and have sex with him. He then helped her straighten her appearance and let her go.
The woman went immediately to the supervisor’s office where the meeting was gathering and police were called. Piringer was taken into custody.
In his opening argument and in other statements in court, defense attorney Robert Thorson of Chippewa Falls indicated the alleged assault did not take place.
The woman acknowledged in her testimony that she and Piringer had a previous relationship, which ended well before the alleged assault. However, the woman was Piringer’s case worker and such a relationship was a violation of work rules that would have cost the woman her job.
The two had been arguing previous to the alleged assault, and Piringer had declared, “I’m taking you down,” meaning he planned to tell her supervisor so she would be fired.
Piringer testified on his own behalf Tuesday afternoon and denied that a sexual assault took place.
According to Assistant District Attorney Wade Newell, the defendant admitted to slapping the woman but said it was because she was hysterical, and pushing her on the bed because he wanted to talk to her.
Check chippewa.com for updates on the trial later today.