On Tuesday, authorities released an Arizona police officer video showing a cop car intentionally ramming an armed man accused of carrying out a crime spree. Authorities said the incident, which took place in February, most likely saved the man's life and protected the safety of others. But his lawyer has blasted the police for what he calls excessive force that was used to stop his client.
Authorities said the person driving the police car was Officer Michael Rapiejko, who has since been cleared of any wrongdoing and is back on the force, according to the Associated Press. Rapiejko's dash cam showed him speeding past another police cruiser to hit a man, later identified as Mario Valencia, who was carrying a rifle. Valencia flies over the windshield upon impact, which shatters as the car crashes into a low concrete wall.
Authorities said Valencia was a suspect in an alleged crime spree that stretched from Tucson, Arizona, to Marana, Arizona, located a half-hour drive away. The alleged crimes included a robbery of a 7-11 and a fire at a church. Local CBS affiliate KOLD reported Valencia was hospitalized in serious condition before being released into police custody after two days. Valencia faces at least 15 charges.
Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema told CNN that Rapiejko's actions were justified.
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. Without a doubt.
A dash cam from a police car that first encountered Valencia provides another angle to the incident. This camera shows a police cruiser pulling up to a man walking alongside the road with a rifle to his head. When the man sees the police car, he yells, "Stop or I'll f***ing do it." The man then continues to walk while an officer calls in his radio to report a Hispanic man who has a gun to his neck. The cop continues to follow Valencia but says he will be "staying back at a distance." The officer asks him to put the gun down but continues to trail behind at a slow speed. At one point, Valencia can be seen firing one shot into the air, which the officer then confirms over the radio that the rifle is loaded.
The officer warns other units to "stay off, stay off" because the gun is loaded. In the video, the officer seems to notice another cruiser, most likely the one driven by Rapiejko, and tells it over the radio, "Unit right there. Just stand off, just stand off." Off frame, a car engine can be heard revving up before it speeds up and rams Valencia from behind. Upon seeing the hit, the officer in the first car says, "Oh, Jesus Christ. Man down." Several officers from other cars then approach Valencia who does not appear to get up.
Valencia's lawyer Michelle Cohen-Metzger told KOLD:
Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force. It is miraculous that my client isn’t dead.
There's no doubt the graphic videos show an intense situation. But the police handbook must have a more ethical way of disarming a man with a gun than simply ramming him with a car.