By Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press
GREELEY — 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 did not realize the officer who had arrived before her had parked it on the tracks.
After racing to the scene, Officer Jordan Steinke said, she quickly parked her patrol vehicle behind the other one and got out because it was the quickest way “to get a gun in the fight” — hers. She explained that she was suprised the other officer was still sitting in his vehicle.
Steinke also said she did not notice the tracks or the ground when she squatted down to arrest a kneeling Yareni Rios-Gonzalez after the suspect was ordered out of her pickup truck. The tracks and railroad crossing signs can be seen in her body camera video from the Sept. 16, 2022, incident.
When pressed by Deputy District Attorney Christopher Jewkes, Steinke replied “I am sure I saw the tracks sir, but I did not perceive them.” She explained that she was focused on the suspect and the potential threat she posed, and was “fairly certain” that the traffic stop would end in gunfire.
“I never in a million years thought a train was going to come plowing through my scene,” Steinke said.
Rios-Gonzalez survived the crash but was badly hurt, including a traumatic brain injury, and is suing over her treatment. She was arrested after a driver reported that she pointed a gun at him during a road rage incident and later pleaded no contest to misdemeanor menancing, one of her lawyers, Chris Ponce, said.
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Steinke said she placed Rios-Gonzalez in the other police car temporarily because it was the nearest place to keep her secure, a move that is standard practice for high-risk traffic stops, according to testimony by defense expert witness Steve Ijames.
Under prosecution questioning, Steinke said she was unaware it was on the tracks and assumed the suspect was safe there. She didn’t know the train was coming until just before it hit, she added.
“I saw the front headlights and heard the train at the same time right before impact,” said Steinke
Previously released police video shows officers searching Rios-Gonzalez’s truck as the train nears with its horn blaring. Other footage shows officers scrambling as the train approaches and slams into the vehicle.
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 rural site. Revel has argued that prosecutors could not meet their burden to prove that she acted recklessly since she was unaware the car was on railroad tracks.
Steinke has been charged with 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 car on the tracks is also being prosecuted for misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment.
Prosecutors rested their case earlier Tuesday.
There is no jury. Instead, Judge Timothy Kerns will issue the verdict.
Steinke 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.