DENVER — A Colorado police officer accused of putting a handcuffed woman in a parked police car that was hit by a freight train did not know the car was parked on the tracks, the officer’s lawyer said in court Monday.
While evidence will show Officer Jordan Steinke stood on the railroad tracks during a night traffic stop on Sept. 16, 2022, she did not know that an officer she was assisting had parked his patrol car on the tracks, defense lawyer Mallory Revel said in opening statements in state court in Greeley. The woman inside, Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, suffered extensive injuries, including a traumatic brain injury.
The tracks were completely flush with the road, nothing to trip over, and there were no illuminated crossing signs or gates at the railroad crossing in the rural area, just two reflective signs on either side of the tracks, Revel said.
Prosecutors will not be able to prove that she acted recklessly by leaving the woman in the patrol car, Revel said.
“You cannot disregard a risk of which you are unaware, no matter how obvious that risk may later seem,” said Revel, who stressed the case hinged on what Steinke knew in the moment.
In her opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Lacy Wells noted Steinke had walked across the train tracks several times during the incident, including when she escorted Rios-Gonzalez to the patrol car after arresting her. She did not lay out exactly what Steinke knew, but she said prosecutors would present evidence about her state of mind.
“The court will see and hear evidence from which the court can infer the defendant’s mental state at the time she elected to place Yareni Rios-Gonzalez in the Platteville patrol car parked on the railroad tracks, instead of her own patrol unit that was safely parked to the west of the railroad tracks,” Wells said.
Previously released police video shows officers searching Rios-Gonzalez’s truck as the train approaches with its horn is blaring. Other footage shows officers scrambling as the train approaches and slams into the vehicle.
Steinke, who was working for the Fort Lupton Police Department, was following her training, which taught her to focus on patting down the suspect, getting her in the nearest patrol car and then making sure there was no one else in Rios-Gonzalez’s vehicle who could be waiting to ambush police, Revel said.
The officer from the nearby Platteville Police Department who parked the patrol car on the tracks is also being prosecuted for misdemeanor counts of reckless endangerment. Steinke is being prosecuted for criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, a felony; reckless endangerment; and third-degree assault, both misdemeanors.
There is no jury for the trial, which is scheduled to end Friday. Testimony is being heard by Judge Timothy Kerns, who will issue a verdict.
Rios-Gonzalez is suing over her treatment, after being arrested when a driver reported she had pointed a gun at him during a road rage incident. The lawsuit accused three officers of acting recklessly and failing in their duty to take care of her while she was in their custody.