Colorado police officer avoids jail for leaving handcuffed woman in car hit by train

A former Colorado police officer who handcuffed a woman in a police vehicle that was hit by a freight train has been put under supervised probation.

Jordan Steinke, 29, was found guilty of reckless endangerment and assault for the crash that took place on 16 September last year near Platteville in Colorado. The crash had left Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, who was in the car, with grievous injuries.

Steinke was acquitted of a criminal attempt to commit manslaughter in July and sentenced on Friday – so she will be serving 30 months on supervised probation, reports said.

Weld County district court judge Timothy Kerns said he had planned to sentence Steinke to jail, but changed his mind after both prosecutors and defence attorneys sought a probationary sentence, reported the Denver Post.

“Someone is going to hear this and say: ‘Another officer gets off’,” Judge Kerns said. “That’s not the facts of this case.”

“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,” he said.

The court also ordered Steinke to perform 100 hours of community service. The judge said if she violates the terms of her probation, “I will harken back to my original gut response as to how to address sentencing”.

The former officer apologised to Ms Rios-Gonzalez, the victim who attended the hearing virtually.

Steinke had joined a traffic stop in Weld County last September, pulling over Ms Rios-Gonzalez. She was suspected of having brandished a firearm in a road-rage incident with another driver earlier that evening.

Another police officer, Pablo Vazquez, had stopped Ms Rios-Gonzalez after the incident. Steinke took her into custody and locked her in Mr Vazquez’s police vehicle, which was parked on the railroad tracks.

Mr Vazquez is also facing a trial for his role in the crash and 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.

“What happened that night has haunted me for 364 days,” Steinke said. “I remember your cries and your screams.”

Ms Rios-Gonzalez suffered a lasting brain injury after the crash last year.

“The conflict that she feels is one where every day she has to feel this pain,” said her attorney, Chris Ponce.

“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.”

Following her conviction, Steinke was terminated from her position at the Fort Lupton police department.

According to her attorney Mallory Revel, she is anticipated to forfeit her Peace Officer Standards and Training certification as well. This will permanently bar her from pursuing a career in law enforcement ever again.

“I understand, recognise and empathise that Ms Rios-Gonzalez and her family have endured a great deal of physical, emotional and psychological pain,” Steinke said prior to her sentencing.

“As a police officer, I never intended for another human to come to harm under my watch. I feel very much responsible for what happened to you that night.”

Ms Rios-Gonzalez has also slapped a lawsuit against the police agencies involved.

Additional reporting by agencies