A Colorado police officer was found guilty of two misdemeanors on Friday 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 Fort Lupton police officer, Jordan Steinke, is one of two officers facing criminal charges after Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 21, was pulled over on the night of Sept. 16, 2022, and then struck by the train while trapped in the police car.
Ms. Rios-Gonzalez was stopped by the police after a road rage incident involving a handgun, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation said last year.
A Platteville Police Department officer parked his patrol vehicle on the railroad tracks after he pulled Ms. Rios-Gonzalez over, the bureau said.
Two officers from the Fort Lupton police, including Ms. Steinke, helped him with the traffic stop, which took place near Platteville, a city about 38 miles northeast of Denver.
The Fort Lupton Police Department released body camera and dashboard camera video that showed the officers detaining Ms. Rios-Gonzalez on a dark, remote road.
In the footage, a railroad crossing sign can be seen next to a patrol car.
Officers are heard in the video shouting commands at Ms. Rios-Gonzalez, who gets out of her car and puts her hands up. She is put in handcuffs and repeatedly asks why she was being arrested.
An officer says that she would tell Ms. Rios Gonzalez “in a second” and places her in the patrol car. Officers are shown searching her car and talking about the traffic stop when a train horn starts to sound.
The horn gets louder and an officer shouts an expletive and repeatedly says, “Oh my God,” just before the car is struck. After the crash, the police searched for the patrol car, which was hurled off the track and left in a mangled wreck.
The car rolled at least twice and traveled about a half-mile, according to a lawsuit filed by Ms. Rios-Gonzalez. She suffered “severe head trauma” and “serious bodily injury,” according to court records.
The Weld County District Attorney’s Office filed charges in November against Ms. Steinke and the officer who pulled Ms. Rios-Gonzalez over, Pablo Vazquez. It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Vazquez and Ms. Steinke were still employed as police officers.
A lawyer for Ms. Steinke declined to comment. The Fort Lupton Police Department declined to comment, and the Platteville Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Vazquez’s lawyer declined to comment on Sunday about the pending case.
A district court judge, Timothy Kerns, found Ms. Steinke guilty of third-degree assault and reckless endangerment.
The judge said Ms. Steinke was found not guilty of reckless attempted manslaughter because prosecutors failed to prove she acted knowingly, 9News, a local news channel, reported.
“While she was consciously aware, she did not take the substantial step creating the risk,” Judge Kerns said. “She did not park the vehicle on the tracks. She was randomly assigned the duty to cuff and detain given the roles required by the high-risk stop.”
Ms. Rios-Gonzalez’s lawyer, Chris Ponce, said his client thought the verdict was a “just outcome.”
Mr. Ponce is representing Ms. Rios-Gonzalez in a civil suit against the Platteville and Fort Lupton police departments and the officers involved in the response.
Mr. Ponce said that Ms. Rios-Gonzalez was still struggling with the physical, cognitive and emotional effects from being hit and “being handcuffed in a patrol car with nowhere to go, locked and staring out the window at a freight train coming right at her.”
“That image, it’s something that I think is haunting her on a daily basis,” he said.
Prosecutors had accused Ms. Rios-Gonzalez of pointing a handgun during the road rage incident. She pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge this month, Mr. Ponce said.
She received an unsupervised deferred sentence, which means that the case against her can be dismissed and expunged from her record if she follows conditions set by the court, he said.