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Police officer who parked on train tracks called 'incompetent' by fellow officers, demotion recommended at previous department

Police officer who parked on train tracks called 'incompetent' by fellow officers
Police officer who parked on train tracks called 'incompetent' by fellow officers 01:43

The Platteville police sergeant who left his patrol vehicle on railroad tracks last month with a handcuffed prisoner inside was hired by Platteville even though a commander at his previous department recommended he be demoted, his colleagues labeled him "incompetent" and another officer said Sgt. Pablo Vazquez "has a dangerous lack of radio awareness."

As prosecutors weigh possible criminal charges, a CBS News Colorado investigation reveals a troubled past at previous departments Vazquez worked at, including how colleagues felt about him.

But despite those concerns, the Platteville Police Department hired Vazquez directly from the Federal Heights Police Department, where he had come under intense criticism from both subordinates and commanders, who expressed deep and ongoing concerns about his ability as a police officer.

Now Vazquez is under scrutiny at his latest department - Platteville - for the Sept. 16 incident in Weld County. He stopped a woman that may have been involved in an armed road rage incident, but parked his patrol vehicle on train tracks, later saying he thought he had cleared the tracks. A Fort Lupton police officer placed the woman, Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, 20, in Vazquez's police car.

Moments later, a freight train smashed into the police car, resulting in Rios-Gonzalez sustaining serious injuries.

This week, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation concluded its investigation and provided information to the Weld County District Attorney, who will weigh possible criminal charges against Vazquez and other officers.

Internal affairs investigations into Vazquez from his previous department, Federal Heights, raise more questions about what the Platteville Police Department knew about Vazquez when they hired him in March 2020.

Platteville sgt. criticized by previous dept. after train smashes into cruiser with woman inside 03:01

Platteville Police Chief Carl Dwyer previously told CBS News Colorado, "Platteville conducts a standard background check that inquires into an applicant's prior employment history and criminal record." Dwyer has not responded to additional questions about the rigor of that background check or what it turned up.

Vazquez was employed as a police sergeant with the Federal Heights police department from 2017 through 2020.

Through an open records request, CBS News Colorado obtained two internal affairs investigations from 2019 and 2020 into Vazquez. Both were initiated by fellow officers, who expressed concerns about the supervisor. In one complaint, a fellow Federal Heights police officer said "Sergeant Vazquez operates with a lack of care for his own safety and the safety of his officers. Sergeant Vazquez appears to be incompetent." Another officer said he "lost confidence in Sergeant Vazquez as a leader."

The Federal Heights police commander who conducted the investigation said he had "justification for demotion or even termination in other police departments." The commander found "a significant failure to adhere to the principals inherent to police supervision. I recommend demotion from the rank of sergeant to the non-supervisory role of P3."

It does not appear Vazquez was ever demoted.

In a second internal affairs investigation into Vazquez in 2019, an officer told the commander he, "felt unsafe working under Sergeant Vazquez and was concerned that the Sergeant's method of supervision was putting himself and others on the shift in danger." The officer said Vazquez "has a dangerous lack of radio awareness." The Federal Heights police commander recommended a two-day suspension.

In March 2020, Vazquez notified Federal Heights he was quitting and he immediately began a new job with the Platteville Police Department.

Colorado's Peace Officers Standards and Training agency currently lists Vazquez as a certified peace officer with no actions against his certification.

Vazquez and his attorney have not responded to previous requests from CBS News Colorado for comment. Vazquez is on paid leave from the Platteville Police Department during the investigation into the collision.

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