Officer Convicted After Train Hits Patrol Car With Handcuffed Woman Inside

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A Colorado police officer, Jordan Steinke, has been found guilty of two misdemeanors after facing charges for putting a handcuffed woman in a patrol car that was parked on active railroad tracks and then struck by a freight train. The incident involved Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, who was pulled over on the night of September 16, 2022, and subsequently trapped in the police car when it was hit by the train.

According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Ms. Rios-Gonzalez was stopped by the police following a road rage incident involving a handgun. A Platteville Police Department officer parked his patrol car on the railroad tracks after pulling her over. Two officers from the Fort Lupton police, including Officer Steinke, assisted with the traffic stop near Platteville, which is located about 38 miles northeast of Denver. The Fort Lupton Police Department released footage from body cameras and dashboard cameras, showing the officers detaining Ms. Rios-Gonzalez on a dark, remote road with a railroad crossing sign next to the patrol car.

In the footage, officers can be heard shouting commands at Ms. Rios-Gonzalez as she gets out of her car and puts her hands up. She is then handcuffed and repeatedly asks why she is being arrested. One officer tells her the reason will be explained later and puts her in the patrol car. Meanwhile, other officers search her car and discuss the traffic stop when a train horn starts to sound. As the horn gets louder, an officer exclaims in shock just before the car is struck. The patrol car is hurled off the track and left in a mangled wreck, rolling at least twice and traveling about half a mile.

According to court records, Ms. Rios-Gonzalez suffered severe head trauma and serious bodily injury. Charges were filed by the Weld County District Attorney’s Office against Officer Steinke and the officer who pulled her over, Pablo Vazquez. It is unclear whether both officers are still employed by the police departments. Lawyers for Officer Steinke and the police departments declined to comment, and Mr. Vazquez’s lawyer did not comment on the pending case.

District Court Judge Timothy Kerns found Officer Steinke guilty of third-degree assault and reckless endangerment. However, she was acquitted of reckless attempted manslaughter due to the prosecution’s failure to prove that she acted knowingly. Judge Kerns stated that Officer Steinke did not park the car on the tracks and that she was randomly assigned the duty to cuff and detain during the high-risk stop. Ms. Rios-Gonzalez’s lawyer, Chris Ponce, expressed that his client believed the verdict was just. Mr. Ponce is representing her in a civil suit against the police departments and the officers involved in the response.

The incident has taken a toll on Ms. Rios-Gonzalez, who continues to struggle with physical, cognitive, and emotional effects from being hit by the train and handcuffed in the patrol car. Prosecutors had initially accused her of pointing a handgun during the road rage incident, but she pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge and received an unsupervised deferred sentence. This means that the case can be dismissed and expunged from her record if she meets the conditions set by the court.

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