A Colorado police officer on trial for putting a handcuffed woman in a parked police vehicle that was hit by a freight train testified Tuesday that she placed the woman there temporarily because it was the closest place to keep her secure after arresting her.
That police vehicle belonged to another officer who pulled Yareni Rios-Gonzalez over before Officer Jordan Steinke arrived on scene on Sept. 16, 2022, and was parked on train tracks that cross a road. Steinke, who claims she did not know the car was parked on the tracks, said she gave Rios-Gonzalez a quick pat-down and did not buckle her in in the backseat. Steinke said she assumed the patrol vehicle was secure and wanted to quickly switch to providing cover to two other officers who were searching Rios-Gonzalez’s truck for a weapon.
She said she did not know a train was coming until right before it hit.
“I saw the front headlights and heard the train at the same time right before impact,” said Steinke, who said she had about 3 1/2 years of law enforcement experience at the time of the crash, when she worked for the Fort Lupton Police Department.
Previously released police video shows officers searching Rios-Gonzalez’s truck as the train approaches with its horn blaring. Other footage shows officers scrambling as the train approaches and slams into the vehicle.
Rios-Gonzalez survived but suffered extensive injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and is suing over her treatment. She was arrested because a driver reported that she had pointed a gun at him during a road rage incident.
Prosecutors say Steinke walked across the railroad tracks five times during the nighttime traffic stop, including as she put Rios-Gonzalez inside the patrol vehicle. But Steinke’s lawyer, Mallory Revel, has said the tracks were completely flush with the road, so a person wouldn’t trip over them, and there were no illuminated railroad crossing signs or gates at the site, which is in rural area. There were two reflective signs on either side of the tracks.
Steinke is being prosecuted for criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, which is a felony, and two misdemeanors: reckless endangerment and third-degree assault. The Platteville police officer who parked the patrol car on the tracks is also being prosecuted for misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.
Since Steinke did not know the car was parked on the tracks, Revel has argued that prosecutors could not meet their burden to prove that she acted recklessly.
There is no jury for the trial. Instead, Judge Timothy Kerns will issue the verdict.
After prosecutors rested their case earlier Tuesday, Revel asked Kerns to acquit Steinke, arguing that the prosecution had not proven their case. Kerns refused and the defense began presenting their case.