‘Significant Risk’: Officer Who Left Suspect in Patrol Car on Train Tracks Was Previously Labeled a Liability and Written Up Multiple Times By a Different Police Department

The Colorado police officer who parked his patrol vehicle on tracks after he detained a suspect, leaving her handcuffed in the car before she was struck by an oncoming freight train, was labeled a “significant” liability by a previous police force he used to work for from 2014 to 2020. An initial investigation found several “red flags” in his law enforcement history, specifically a lack of awareness on how to respond appropriately to other officers.

New reports now show Platteville Police Sgt. Pablo Vazquez’s judgment had been in question long before the Friday, Sept. 16, incident in Weld County, when he placed suspect Yareni Rios-Gonzalez in the back of his patrol car that was parked on the train tracks, according to CBS News.

Vazquez pulled the young woman over on suspicion she was involved in a road rage incident involving a gun. He was then joined by another officer from the Fort Lupton Police Department.

After removing her from her car and she was cuffed by Vazquez, the female officer placed Rios-Gonzalez inside Vazquez’s patrol car. While the handcuffed woman was in the car, he and the female officer searched her pickup truck for a gun.

As the two officers searched the woman’s truck, the train came and hit Vazquez’s vehicle with Rios-Gonzalez inside. Unable to release herself, the 20-year-old mother sustained serious injuries, including nine broken ribs, a broken arm, and a fractured sternum.

A video released by 9 News, on Thursday, Oct. 6, showed Vazquez saying to another officer that he thought he wasn’t parked on the track.

“This is where she stopped,” Vazquez said, pointing toward Rios-Gonzalez’s truck. “This is exactly where she stopped. I stopped behind her, I thought that I had cleared the tracks, however, I was focused on her because of the weapons.”

He also said he didn’t know that the other officer from FLPD put the young woman in the car.

“I cuffed her. And I didn’t think the Lupton officer was going to put her in my car, I just didn’t.  And she did,” he said. “She put her in my car.”

The bodycam footage of the accident shows Vazquez asking the other officer over and over again, between the sound of the train screeching to a stop after the accident, if Rios-Gonzalez had been in the patrol car.

The female officer responded with one hand to her face, saying, “Oh my God, yes, she was!”

Another bodycam also shows a third officer arriving and alerting the two about the train.

“I start moving this way and then pow,” Vasquez recalled. “The one good thing is the female officer put her on the wrong side, which was the saving grace because if she would have put her where the prisoners go…” 


Because officers represented multiple agencies, both their departments are investigating the incident.

CBS News Colorado discovered that before joining the PPD Vazquez served as a sergeant with the Federal Heights Police Department, getting hired in 2014.

In 2019 and 2020, the investigation revealed, the sergeant was the subject of a handful of internal affairs probes.

Two of five investigations were initiated by fellow officers, with a file stating, “police officers serving under Sergeant Pablo Vazquez approached police administrators with concerns regarding Sergeant Vazquez’s work performance.” 

Another filing revealed, “a police officer complained that Sergeant Pablo Vazquez… has a lack of radio awareness and often requires several contacts before he responds… unit and call awareness need improvement… rarely knows where his officers are and what kind of call they are on… has an extremely slow response time to calls or requests for cover.”

After being written up, in September of 2019, Federal Heights police administrators said, “Sergeant Vazquez’s documented failure to provide adequate supervision presented a significant risk of liability to the City of Federal Heights and the safety of the officers under his supervision.”

As a result, they placed Vazquez on a performance improvement plan, hoping to reduce his “risk of liability.”

Still, by the end of that year, he received the second to the lowest score in his annual employee performance evaluation. His superiors graded him with “poor” when rating his quality of work.

When addressing his leadership skill set, supervisors said, “needs improvement; employee is unable to achieve effective results.”

Vazquez resigned from the force on March 14, 2020, and joined the PPD.

Vazquez stated he wanted to work with Platteville’s force because it was closer to his home.

Platteville Police Chief Carl Dwyer did not respond to the station’s questions about whether if he was aware of Vazquez’s previous issues at FHD. However, he did say, “Platteville conducts a standard background check that inquires into an applicant’s prior employment history and criminal record.” 

Even though Dwyer said they did a thorough check, experts believe it is possible that the administrators missed some details because of the lack of resources available to smaller forces.

Gregory Smith, Vice President for Law Enforcement Education with The Center for American and International Law, said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those agencies if they have positions to fill, shorten the process, and if you shorten that process, you’re rolling the dice.” 

Smith also added it becomes more complicated with “lateral hires,” from one department to the next.

“That trust factor is here. It’s easy to not do a good background like you would for a new candidate,” Smith explained.

Vazquez was not only written up in Federal Heights but also this year in Platteville. Dwyer wrote a reprimand on the sergeant for tampering with his co-worker’s cellphone, calling his behavior “inappropriate.”

In the issue, the chief wrote to his subordinate, “please use better judgment moving forward to avoid further disciplinary action.”

Rops-Gonzalez has obtained representation and plans to file a lawsuit against all parties involved. Her lawyer Paul Wilkinson submitted a “notice of claim,” which is required by Colorado law, to the municipalities of Platteville and Fort Lupton informing them of their next steps.

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