A Colorado police officer who put a handcuffed woman in a police vehicle parked on train tracks last year has been found guilty of reckless endangerment and assault. The detained woman was injured when a high-speed locomotive plowed into the car.
Officer Jordan Steinke, who worked for the Fort Lupton Police Department at the time of the crash, was found guilty Friday of the two misdemeanor charges but acquitted of a third charge, felony attempt to commit manslaughter. Another officer, Pablo Vazquez of the Platteville Police Department, hasn’t yet entered a plea on reckless endangerment and traffic charges.
Steinke is the officer seen on previously released body camera footage who placed a handcuffed Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20 at the time, into the back of the squad car, which was parked on tracks north of Platteville, Colorado, the evening of Sept. 16, 2022. She was in the car for about two minutes before the northbound train slammed into the car.
Rios-Gonzalez survived the crash but was seriously injured, including a head injury and broken bones, her attorney Paul Wilkinson told USA TODAY at the time.
“She’s going to be dealing with her recovery for her whole life,” Christopher Ponce, another attorney representing her, told USA TODAY on Saturday.
Judge says officer’s actions created ‘substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm’
“There’s no reasonable doubt that placing a handcuffed person in the back of a patrol car, parked on railroad tracks, creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm by the train,” Judge Timothy Kerns said in court.
But Steinke had also shown “shock and remorse.”
And the evidence didn’t convince Kerns that Steinke “knowingly intended to harm Ms. Rios-Gonzalez.”
Steinke is scheduled to be sentenced in September, according to court records. Her attorney, Mallory Revel, declined to comment when reached by USA TODAY on Saturday. USA TODAY has reached out to the Fort Lupton Police Department for comment.
Video shows train hitting police vehicle with woman inside
Body camera footage showed Steinke placing Rios-Gonzalez in handcuffs and leading her to the squad car, which belonged to a Vazquez and had been parked on the tracks, which are visible in the video.
Rios-Gonzalez had been arrested after police received a call about someone “menacing” with a handgun on the highway, police said at the time. She later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor menacing, her attorney said. Video also shows the officers search Rios-Gonzalez’s truck, which had been parked ahead of the tracks.
She could see and hear the freight train coming and “tried frantically to get the officers’ attention,” Wilkinson said at the time.
“Stay back!” one officer yelled, possibly to other police at the scene, just before the impact. An officer can be seen quickly retreating from the parked cruiser before it was hit. In another clip, officers seemed not to immediately realize Rios-Gonzalez was in the police car when it was hit. A male officer asked a female officer seconds after the impact, “Was she in there?”
“Oh my god, yes she was,” the female officer responded before running toward the demolished cruiser.
Officer says she didn’t ‘perceive’ train tracks
Steinke testified in court she wasn’t aware of the train tracks when she put Rios-Gonzalez in the car, and didn’t know the other officer’s car was parked on the tracks, though the tracks and railroad crossing signs can be seen in the footage.
“I am sure I saw the tracks… but I did not perceive them,” Steinke said when pressed by prosecutors.
Steinke said she was focused on the suspect and believed the traffic stop would lead to gunfire. She said she placed Rios-Gonzalez in the car because it was the nearest place to keep her secure and was standard practice.
“I never in a million years thought a train was going to come plowing through my scene,” Steinke said.
Woman hit by train will never ‘get back to how she was’
Rios-Gonzalez will be recovering from her injuries for the rest of her life, Ponce said. When the verdict against Steinke was handed down, Rios-Gonzalez was at one of the many medical appointments she is “inundated” with on a regular basis, he said.
“I don’t think she’s never going to be back to the way she was before, physically or emotionally or cognitively.” Ponce said.
Rios-Gonzalez has also filed a civil lawsuit against the Platteville and Fort Lupton police departments, court records show.
“Ms. Rios respects the verdict in this case against Ms. Steinke and believes that justice was done,” Ponce told USA TODAY on Saturday. “It is unacceptable for anyone in law enforcement to act as reckless and incompetent as these officers did.”
Contributing: The Associated Press