Police sergeant at center of controversial train crash branded a ‘liability risk’ by former police department

A Platteville police sergeant who parked his patrol car on the train tracks last month was called a “significant” liability risk by a former police department, and his former department called his work “poor,” according to a CBS News Colorado investigation. Despite these “red flags”, the Platteville Police Department hired Sgt. Pablo Vazquez in 2020.

sergeant. pablo vazquez


Vazquez was placed on leave following the Sept. 16 incident in Weld County. He arrested a suspect in a road rage incident. Vazquez parked his patrol vehicle on the train tracks, later saying he thought he had cleared the tracks.

A Fort Lupton police officer – who was second to respond to the road rage incident after Vazquez – placed the suspect, 20-year-old Yareni Rios-Gonzalez, in Vazquez’s police cruiser. Moments later, a freight train slammed into the police cruiser, leaving Rios-Gonzalez seriously injured. CBS News Colorado was the first to identify the officers involved in the incident.

Dramatic dash cam video shows the times a police cruiser parked on train tracks was smashed, with a handcuffed suspect inside, by a speeding train in Weld County.

Platteville Police

Now, a CBS News Colorado investigation has found this isn’t the first time Vazquez’s police judgment has been questioned.

He previously worked as a police sergeant with the Federal Heights Police Department beginning in 2014. But in 2019 and 2020, Vazquez was the subject of five internal affairs investigations, including two initiated by fellow officers.

One of the internal affairs complaints, obtained by CBS News Colorado, states that “police officers serving under Sergeant Pablo Vazquez have approached police administrators with concerns about Sergeant Vazquez’s job performance.”

In a second internal affairs complaint, according to a summary obtained by CBS News Colorado, “a police officer complained that Sgt. Pablo Vazquez…has a lack of radio awareness and often requires multiple contacts before he responds…unit and call awareness needs improvement…rarely knows where his officers are and what type of call they are on…has extremely slow response time to calls or requests for coverage.”

In September 2019, Federal Heights police administrators put Vazquez on a performance improvement plan to fix the issues, documents show.

As part of that plan, administrators wrote, “Sgt. Vazquez’s documented failure to provide adequate supervision presented a significant liability risk to the City of Federal Heights and the safety of officers under his supervision.”

For his annual employee performance review in 2019, supervisors rated him as doing “poor quality work”, the second-lowest possible score.

His leadership was rated as “requires improvement; employee is unable to achieve effective results”.

But on March 14, 2020, Vazquez resigned from Federal Heights and immediately went to work for the Platteville Police Department saying he was leaving Federal Heights because he needed to be closer to home.

Platteville Police Chief Carl Dwyer told CBS News Colorado, “Platteville conducts a standard background check that investigates an applicant’s work history and criminal record.”

Dwyer didn’t respond when asked if he was aware of Vazquez’s previous issues while employed at Federal Heights.

Gregory Smith, vice president for law enforcement education at the Center for American and International Law, told CBS News that small Colorado police departments like Platteville are feeling extreme pressure to fill positions and are not not always have the resources to perform thorough background checks.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if some of these agencies, if they have vacancies, shorten the process, and if you shorten that process, you roll the dice,” Smith said.

He said the problem is even more acute with “lateral hires,” which move from one department to another.

“That trust factor is there. It’s easy to not have a good run like you would for a new candidate,” Smith said.

Dwyer did not respond when asked by CBS News Colorado to describe the background check performed on Vazquez.

Vazquez’s attorney did not respond to a request from CBS News Colorado for comment on the sergeant’s previous employment.

Internal affairs documents show that in January of this year, the head of Platteville issued Vazquez a written reprimand for tampering with a colleague’s cellphone. The chef called the tampering “inappropriate”.

He told Vazquez, “please use your best judgment to avoid further disciplinary action.”

Several law enforcement agencies are investigating the September rail incident and will present their findings to prosecutors for consideration of possible criminal charges.