Police officer who left handcuffed suspect in car that was hit by train avoids prison

Screen grab of freight train approaching parked police car
Footage of the freight train approaching the parked car - Fort Lupton Police Department/via AP

A former Colorado police officer who locked a handcuffed suspect in a car that was then hit by a freight train has avoided prison.

Jordan Steinke, 29, was sentenced on Friday by Weld County District Court Judge Timothy Kerns, who found her guilty in July of reckless endangerment and assault for the crash near Platteville, Wisconsin.

The former Fort Lupton police officer was acquitted of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter.

According to the Denver Post, Judge Kerns said he had planned to send Steinke to jail but he changed his mind after both prosecutors and defence attorneys sought a probationary sentence. He ordered her instead to perform 100 hours of community service. She was also placed on supervised probation for 30 months.

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

He warned that if she broke the terms of her probation “I will harken back to my original gut response as to how to address sentencing”.

Steinke, who wept during the hearing, apologised to the victim, Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, who attended virtually.

Ms Rios-Gonzalez had been stopped after an alleged road-rage incident involving a gun in September 2022.

Steinke took her into custody and locked her in another investigating officer’s police car, which was parked on railroad tracks. The freight train then crashed into the SUV.

Screen grab of freight train hitting car
Yareni Rios-Gonzalez was trapped in the locked police car - Fort Lupton Police Department/via AP

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

Steinke said she hoped to fulfil some of her community service by giving educational talks to new police officers about the dangers of railroad tracks and the importance of being aware of their surroundings.

Ms 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.

‘She feels sorry for Ms Steinke’

“The conflict that she feels is one where every day she has to feel this pain,” Mr 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 sorry for how she lost her career.”

Steinke was sacked 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 as a police officer again.

During Steinke’s trial, her defence attorneys said she did not know that the police vehicle had been parked on the tracks.

Pablo Vazquez, the other former officer involved in the incident, is due to go on trial later in 2023 on charges of reckless endangerment and traffic-related offences.

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