Police in Arizona are defending one officer’s decision to ram an allegedly suicidal suspect with his squad car in an effort to bring an end to a potentially dangerous situation.
The Marana Police Department recently released a video (shown below) of the February incident in which officer Michael Rapiejko plows his car into Mario Valencia who was walking down the street carrying a rifle, CBS News reports.
The video footage, shot from two different police dashcams, shows the events unfold from two different angles.
The first piece of footage shows a man, said to be Valencia, walking down a residential street carrying what appears to be a rifle. When officers in the car hear an apparent gun shot they radio out that a shot has been fired and advise other patrol cars in the area to approach the man with caution.
Shortly after that call goes out, a second patrol is seen in the video, speeding past and hitting the man with rifle, throwing him into the air. The ar that hit the man then hits a concrete wall.
“Oh Jesus Christ. Man down,” an officer in the car recording the video can be heard saying.
The second video, shot from Rapiejko’s vehicle, shows Valencia getting tossed over the patrol car’s hood just before the car crashes through the concrete wall, shattering its windshield.
Shortly after the Feb. 19 incident, Marana Police Department Sgt. Chris Warren defended Rapiejko’s decision to use his car as a weapon.
Marana police say Valencia was a suspect in a number of crimes that occurred earlier that morning, including the robbery of a convenience store and the theft of a car. They also believe Valencia was the man reported to have stolen a rifle from a nearby Walmart.
"This was a dangerous felon who'd been on a crime spree throughout the morning,” Warren told KOLD News. “He'd just stolen a weapon, loaded it, was not obeying commands from officers and was walking toward occupied businesses. … So we had to take immediate action and make sure he didn't get inside those businesses.”
But Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, told CNN that, now that video has been released, people can see for themselves that Rapiejko’s actions were over the top.
"Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force. It is miraculous that my client isn't dead,” Cohen-Metzger said.
But Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema said the decision had more to do with protecting citizens who might be in the area.
"If we're going to choose between maybe we'll let him go a little bit farther and see what happens, or we're going to take him out now and eliminate any opportunity he has to hurt somebody, you're going to err on the side of, in favor of the innocent people," Rozema said.
Valencia was taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for injuries. He was transferred to police custody two days later.
That’s a suitable end to a dangerous situation, Rozema said.
"This officer made a split-second decision, and in retrospect, when all the dust clears, I think we look at this and say, yeah, there's things we can learn from this," he said. “But the entire community is safe, all the officers are safe, and even the suspect in this case is safe."
"I find it ludicrous to say that we're saving this man's life whose suicidal by almost killing him," Cohen-Metzger said.
Warren told The Associated Press that Rapiejko was initially put on routine administrative leave pending an investigation into the use of force incident. The Pima County Attorney’s Office has since cleared him of any wrongdoing and he is back to work, Warren said.
Valencia is still in custody and facing 15 charges including three counts of armed robbery and three counts of aggravated assault.
He is scheduled to appear in court on May 18.
Photo Credit: Screen shot from YouTube