A US police officer who put a handcuffed suspect in a patrol SUV that was then hit by a train near Denver last year was found guilty of two misdemeanours on Friday.
The Colorado cop told the court that she didn’t notice the car was parked on the train tracks at the time.
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Fort Lupton police Officer Jordan Steinke was convicted of reckless endangerment and third-degree assault, but acquitted of a felony charge of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter.
“There’s no reasonable doubt that placing a handcuffed person in the back of a patrol car parked on railroad tracks creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of harm by the train,” Judge Timothy Kerns said when reading the verdict after a week-long bench trial.
Steinke, who had waived her right to have the case decided by a jury, laid her head on the table and sobbed after the verdict was read.
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In September, Steinke joined a traffic stop in which officers pulled over Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, who authorities said was suspected of brandishing a gun at another driver in a road rage case earlier in the evening.
Steinke put Rios into the cruiser of Platteville police officer Pablo Vasquez, who arrived first and parked in the middle of a railroad crossing.
Body-worn camera and dashboard camera video released by police showed Rios screaming for help as the train approaches and strikes the vehicle.
She suffered nine broken ribs and a broken arm in addition to other injuries.
“Rios respects the verdict in this case against Steinke and believes that justice was done,” Rios’ attorney, Chris Ponce, told CNN on Friday.
An attorney for Steinke argued in court that the officer couldn’t be held responsible because there was no proof she was aware that she had placed the suspect in harm’s way.
“Your honour cannot hold a defendant responsible if she was actually unaware of a risk, even if a reasonable person would have perceived it,” defence attorney Erin O’Neill said.
A police officer who placed a handcuffed suspect into a car parked on an active train line has been found guilty of two misdemeanours. Credit: CNNRios was hospitalised with nine broken ribs and a broken arm, in addition to other injuries. Credit: CNN
Steinke had argued throughout her testimony that she did not notice the location of the railroad tracks, despite multiple warning signs, including one next to where she parked her own vehicle.
She said she was too concerned about approaching a suspect who might have a gun to be fully aware of her surroundings.
“You can only divide your attention so much,” Steinke testified.
Officers were searching Rios’ truck, checking to see whether anyone else was in her vehicle before searching it for a weapon, as the train approached.
The Weld County district attorney’s office and Steinke’s attorney both declined to comment on the verdict.
Steinke’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 15.
Vasquez faces misdemeanour charges but hasn’t entered a plea. Vasquez’s next court date is September 14.
Rios previously entered a no contest plea to misdemeanour menacing in connection with the road rage case, and a felony charge was dropped, her attorney told CNN.
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