A former Colorado police officer who put a handcuffed woman in a parked police vehicle that was hit by a freight train, causing the woman to suffer serious injuries, has avoided a jail sentence and must instead serve 30 months on supervised probation, CBS Colorado reports.
Jordan Steinke, 29, was sentenced Friday by Weld County District Court Judge Timothy Kerns, who found her guilty of reckless endangerment and assault for the Sept. 16, 2022, crash near Platteville. Kerns acquitted the former Fort Lupton police officer of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter after her bench trial in July.
Kerns said he had planned to sentence Steinke to jail, but he changed his mind after both prosecutors and defense attorneys sought a probationary sentence, The Denver Post reported.
“Someone is going to hear this and say: ‘Another officer gets off,’ ” Kerns said. “That’s not the facts of this case.”
He ordered Steinke to perform 100 hours of community service. And if she violates the terms of her probation, “I will harken back to my original gut response as to how to address sentencing,” Kerns warned.
Steinke, who wept during the sentencing hearing, apologized to Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, who attended the hearing virtually.
“What happened that night has haunted me for 364 days,” Steinke said. “I remember your cries and your screams.”
Steinke said she hoped to fulfill some of her community service by giving educational talks to new police officers about the dangers of railroad tracks and the importance of officers being aware of their surroundings.
Then-Plateville Police Sgt. Pablo Vazquez had stopped Rios-Gonzalez after a reported road-rage incident involving a gun. Steinke took her into custody and locked her in Vazquez’s police vehicle, which was parked on the railroad tracks. A train crashed into the SUV.
Dramatic video of the incident showed police talking to the woman, the train hitting the vehicle, and police rushing toward the damaged car requesting immediate medical assistance.
Rios-Gonzalez, who suffered a lasting brain injury and is in pain, was conflicted about how she wanted Steinke to be punished, attorney Chris Ponce said.
“The conflict that she feels is one where every day she has to feel this pain,” Ponce said. “And she’s had to deal with (doctor) appointments and having her life so radically changed. And feeling upset, very upset about that – angry about that – but on the other hand, feeling for Ms. Steinke, and, I think, truly empathetically feeling sorry for how she lost her career.”
Steinke was fired from the Fort Lupton police department after her conviction. She is expected to lose her Peace Officer Standards and Training certification, her attorney Mallory Revel said, meaning she can never be a police officer again.
During Steinke’s trial, her defense attorneys said she did not know that Vazquez had parked his police vehicle on the tracks.
Vazquez still faces trial for his role in the crash. He has been charged with five counts of reckless endangerment for allegedly putting Rios-Gonzalez, Steinke and three other people at risk, as well as for traffic-related violations, including parking where prohibited.
Vazquez has previously beenlabeled “incompetent”by his colleagues, and another officer said, Vazquez “has a dangerous lack of radio awareness,” CBS Colorado reported. His next court appearance is scheduled for December 2023.
Rios-Gonzalez has also filed a lawsuit against the police agencies involved.