Judge Timothy Kerns of Colorado‘s 19th Judicial District said that he planned on giving fired police officer Jordan Steinke jail time for leaving Yareni Rios-Gonzalez handcuffed in a patrol vehicle that was fatefully struck while parked on train tracks, but he ultimately settled on probation, citing the victim’s “compassion and grace,” according to Denver NBC affiliate KUSA.
Sgt. Pablo Vazquez of the Platteville Police Department pulled over Rios-Gonzalez on an allegation that she pulled out a gun during a road rage incident. Steinke, of the Fort Lupton Police Department, and another officer joined to help.
But as seen on video, police put Rios-Gonzalez in Vazquez’s vehicle — which had been left on train tracks.
“Oh, s—!” Steinke said as a freight train approached.
The train wiped Vazquez’s vehicle off the tracks. Rios-Gonzalez survived, but an attorney said she sustained injuries including broken bones, a punctured lung, a traumatic brain injury, and amnesia, according to The Denver Post.
She pleaded no contest to misdemeanor menacing in exchange for 10 hours of community service and avoiding jail under a deferred sentence.
Rios-Gonzalez sued the now-fired Steinke, now-fired Vazquez, and their police departments. That civil case is ongoing, as is Vazquez’s criminal case.
Kerns convicted Steinke of misdemeanor reckless endangerment and assault. He acquitted her of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, but found her testimony — that she was sure she saw the tracks but “I did not perceive them” — to be damning.
“When she testified to that, I wrote down, ‘What does that mean?’” the judge said at trial, according to The Denver Post. “And then I thought about that, and frankly, this is what it means to the court. It’s the equivalent of acknowledging that she was aware of the signs and information that this was a railroad track, but didn’t appreciate the risk. ‘Recklessly’ is the conscious disregard of awareness. Lack of appreciation is, in fact, the disregard of what she consciously observed.”
Steinke on Friday voiced regret for putting Rios-Gonzalez in that vehicle.
“As a police officer, I never intended for another human to come to harm under my watch,” Steinke said, addressing Rios. “I feel very much responsible for what happened to you that night.”
An attorney for Rios-Gonzalez reportedly said that his client did not feel strongly about jail time and did not provide much guidance on what sentence to ask for.
“She has communicated multiple times that she feels very sorry for Ms. Steinke. She feels for the situation from her perspective,” Rios’ attorney said.
Kerns gave that a lot of weight during the sentencing.
“When I came out here I was contemplating a form of incarceration that would send a message to law enforcement that in all circumstances you are accountable,” the judge said. “Ms. Rios-Gonzalez has shown that compassion and grace should win out.”
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