Video: Arizona Police Officer Uses Car to Ram Man Accused of Stealing Rifle

   04.16.15

A recently-released video of a police vehicle ramming an armed suspect went viral earlier this week, leading some to ask whether it was an overly aggressive deployment of force or a justified act that potentially saved lives.

On February 19, police in Marana, Arizona said they stopped a man in the middle of a crime spree by hitting him with a patrol vehicle. According to KVOA, officer Michael Rapiejko struck 36-year-old Mario Valencia as he walked along on the sidewalk, putting him in the hospital for two days. You can see the incident in the video below.

In the lead-up to the incident, Valenica was accused of robbing a local convenience store, setting fire to a church, stealing a rifle from a Walmart, and committing a home invasion that ended with him taking off with a stolen vehicle—all in the same day. When confronted, officers said that Valencia threatened them with the rifle and fired off a single shot. Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema said that if Rapiejko had not struck the suspect with his vehicle, officers may have been forced to shoot Valencia.

CNN reported that Valencia’s alleged crime spree began at 6:45 a.m. when he is believed to have robbed a 7-Eleven in just his underwear. Authorities said he threatened the clerk with a metal object, but it was not until much later that he was confirmed to be armed. Officials said that Valencia later entered a Walmart and stole a .30-30 rifle and ammunition before fleeing on foot with employees in pursuit. Police officers responded to the situation and found Valencia walking nearby in a business park in the vicinity of Sargent Controls, a local manufacturer. When told to drop the gun, Valencia reportedly pointed it at the buildings, at officers, and at his own head, indicating that he wanted to take his own life.

At that point, Rapiejko sped up and struck Valencia with his vehicle. Valencia was not seriously hurt during the encounter and was released from the hospital two days later.

The video of the incident has led some to criticize the Marana Police Department. The video itself offers little context, leading many to view the use of a patrol car to strike Valencia as a case of police brutality. Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, drew parallels between her client’s case and other recent events.

“My client’s back was turned and the officer drove right into him,” she said. “It isn’t that dissimilar to a police officer shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.”

Rozema, however, said he stood firmly behind Rapiejko’s actions. No charges are expected to be brought against the officer. Valencia, who has a prior record, is now facing 15 charges ranging from aggravated assault to armed robbery. He is currently in police custody and is awaiting his next court appearance.

What do you think? Was this justifiable force, or did the police go too far?

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