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A former Colorado police officer who put a handcuffed woman inside a cop car parked on railway tracks that was then struck by a freight train has been spared prison time after offering a tearful mea culpa.
Jordan Steinke, 29, was sentenced Friday to 30 months of supervised probation after being convicted of reckless endangerment and assault for the Sept. 16, 2022, crash outside Platteville, which left her detainee, Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, with serious injuries.
During her bench trial in July, Weld County District Court Judge Timothy Kerns cleared Steinke of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter.
Kerns said he had planned to sentence the former Fort Lupton cop to prison, but he changed his mind after both prosecutors and defense attorneys argued for probation, 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.”
The judge warned Steinke that if she violates the terms of her probation, “I will harken back to my original gut response as to how to address sentencing.”
Steinke, who sobbed through her sentencing, apologized to Rios-Gonzalez, who attended the hearing remotely, saying that as a police officer, she “never intended for another human to come to harm under my watch.”
“What happened that night has haunted me for 364 days,” Steinke added, addressing the victim. “I remember your cries and your screams.”
As part of her punishment, Steinke will be required to perform 100 hours of community service.
She 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.
The incident began unfolding when the then-Plateville Police Sgt. Pablo Vazquez pulled over Rios-Gonzalez to question her about a suspected road rage incident, during which the woman had allegedly pulled a gun on another motorist after following them in her truck.
Steinke, who also responded to the scene in Plateville, took Rios-Gonzalez into custody, slapped handcuffs on her and locked her in Vazquez’s police SUV, which was parked on the railroad tracks.
As seen in body camera and dashboard camera footage that was released by the police last year, within a few seconds, a Union Pacific freight train approached the police vehicle with its horn blaring — but the officers appear oblivious to the warning sounds.
Moments later, dashcam video showed the train smashing into the police SUV with the restrained suspect still inside and dragging it down the tracks.
Rios-Gonzalez, who suffered a lasting brain injury, nine broken ribs and a broken arm, was conflicted about how she wanted Steinke to be punished, her 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 work in law enforcement again.
During Steinke’s trial, her defense team argued that she did not know that Vazquez had parked his police vehicle on the tracks because it was dark and she was miles outside her Fort Lupton jurisdiction.
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.
Rios-Gonzalez has filed a lawsuit against the police agencies involved in the disastrous traffic stop.
The woman, now aged 21, had faced criminal charges related to the road rage incident. She entered a no-contest plea earlier this month to misdemeanor menacing and was handed a deferred sentence.
With Post wires