Despite immediately available body camera and dash camera footage, it took nearly two months for Colorado prosecutors to charge two police officers who left a woman handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser on train tracks. Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20, was seriously injured on Sept. 16, and the Weld County District Attorney’s Office announced reckless endangerment charges against Fort Lupton Police Officer Jordan Steinke and Platteville Police Officer Pablo Vazquez on Nov. 7.
Steinke was also charged with criminal attempt to commit manslaughter and second-degree assault, and Vazquez was charged additionally with obstructing a highway or other passageway, careless driving, and parking where prohibited.
The incident began when each of the officers’ police departments responded to allegations of a traffic offense involving a firearm on Sept. 16.
A 911 call was reported from the jurisdiction of the Fort Lupton Police Department, and police sent a description of the vehicle involved to other agencies. So when an officer with the Platteville Police Department (PPD) saw the vehicle just beyond the train tracks, the officer stopped Rios-Gonzalez and parked a patrol SUV on the tracks behind her, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, one of the investigating agencies.
Officers handcuffed Rios-Gonzalez and put her in the back of the police cruiser while they searched her vehicle for a gun. They didn’t seem to notice a train horn sounding in the distance until just before the train barreled into the cruiser with Rios-Gonzalez trapped inside.
Warning: This video contains footage of the train crash that may be triggering to viewers.
Paul Wilkinson, an attorney for the woman, told CNN his client “was frantically trying to escape, trying to open the doors, but she was handcuffed.”
Wilkinson told reporters his client screamed for officers to pay attention. After the accident, she was hospitalized with a broken arm, nine broken ribs, and injuries to her head, back, and legs.
“I don’t know if they just couldn’t hear her or if they were too busy searching her car, but she saw it coming and prepared for the worst,” Wilkinson said.
Platteville Police Chief Carl Dwyer told CNN before the charges were announced that the officers involved were put on paid administrative leave. Their current employment statuses are unclear at this time.
Vazquez had already been the subject of five internal affairs probes before Platteville police hired him, and other officers launched two of the investigations, CBS News Colorado reported.
Federal Heights police administrators, who conducted a performance review on Vazquez, wrote in an improvement plan for him in September 2019 that his “documented failure to provide adequate supervision presented a significant risk of liability.” In his evaluation, supervisors gave him one of the lowest possible scores, citing his “poor quality of work” and leadership that “needs improvement.”
The only defense Dwyer gave CBS News Colorado was that “Platteville conducts a standard background check that inquires into an applicant’s prior employment history and criminal record.”
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