A disturbing video surfaced on Tuesday showing an Arizona police officer using his car as a weapon against a robbery suspect. The dashcam footage appears to show police officer Michael Rapiejko running over the suspect, identified as Mario Valencia. The collision seems to be intentional, with Rapiejko accelerating moments before ramming into Valencia. It's just the latest in a string of harmful incidents captured on video that question the possible use of excessive force by American law enforcement officers.
The stand-off-turned-car-crash between Rapiejko and Valencia occurred on Feb. 19, but the Marana Police Department didn't release the dashcam footage until now, as many law enforcement agencies face growing pressure from justice activists in the wake of the recent shooting deaths of Walter Scott and Eric Harris. Valencia did not die from his wounds, but he was seriously injured and hospitalized for several days.
In the video, the police dispatcher can be heard saying, "Stand off! Stand off! The gun is loaded." When Valencia comes into view, walking casually along the side walk with his back toward the car, Rapiejko accelerates. The officer swerves the car around another police vehicle, then speeds up as he heads straight for the sidewalk and Valencia.
When the police car slams into Valencia, his body is tossed to the side. A moment later, the car slams into a brick wall, sending bricks in all directions as the windshield shatters. As the vehicle slows to a stop, a man can be heard exclaiming, "Christ. Man down!"
Here's the dashcam video, via Reuters and The Washington Post (warning: this video is graphic)...
Valencia was armed at the time of the intentional collision, having stolen a rifle from a nearby Walmart. Earlier in the day, Valencia reportedly went on a crime spree, allegedly robbing a convenience store and stealing a car, according to Tuscon News Now. The news source also reported that Valencia was almost apprehended shortly before the car crash, as he pointed the rifle at his own head near the local post office to mimic suicide. However, he did not shoot at anyone.
Although Valencia was seriously injured by the police vehicle, Marana police Chief Terry Rozema has said that the officer's decision to run Valencia over may have spared him his life. Another statement from the Marana Police Department emphasized that the police officer "[used] his marked police car to stop the dangerous situation Mario Valencia created." However, Valencia's lawyers aren't so thrilled by the harm caused to their client nor the police department's defense of the tactic.
"Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force," Valencia's attorney Michelle Cohen-Metzger said in a statement. "It is miraculous that my client isn't dead."
Cohen-Metzger added: "I’m hoping that the State takes into account my client’s mental state at the time, as he intended to hurt no one."
Image: screenshot/Reuters video