A dash cam video was released April 13 showing Marana, Arizona Officer Michael Rapiejko intentionally hitting an armed suspect with his car in what police say was an effort to protect the public and other officers.
The suspect, Mario Valencia, was armed with a rifle and was wanted in connection with the armed robbery of a convenience store, an arson at a church, a home invasion and a car theft, CNN reported. The rifle he was carrying had been stolen from a Walmart, police said. All those alleged crimes occurred earlier in the day on Feb. 19, not long before Valencia was struck by Rapiejko’s crusier. He had led police from Marana to Tucson, where he was run down by Rapiejko from behind while walking on a sidewalk.
Valencia, 36, survived the collision with serious injuries. He was treated at a local hospital for two days before being moved to jail, according to CNN.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Officer Was Cleared Of Wrongdoing By Prosecutors
Rapiejko, 34, was put on standard administrative leave as per Marana Police protocol, but has since been reinstated after being cleared of any wrongdoing by the Pima County Attorney’s Office, according to AZCentral.com.
The incident was considered use of force, officials said.
An officer can be heard in the video telling other officers who are not wearing bullet-proof vests or carrying proper guns to not go into the area. Rapiejko then accelerates, jumps the curb with his cruiser and strikes Valencia from behind.
Valencia was sent flying into the air and Rapiejko’s cruiser crashes through a concrete wall, its windshield smashed.
The suspect had refused to drop the weapon and threatened to kill himself before Rapiejko ran his car into, Marana Police Lt. Tim Brunenkant told CNN.
He said Valencia had pointed the gun at an officer.
“As Mario Valencia briskly walked towards Sargent Controls (a local manufacturer), Officer Michael Rapiejko uses his marked police car to stop the dangerous situation Mario Valencia created,” Brunenkant wrote in an email to CNN.
Watch additional dash cam video from another cruiser in CNN’s report on the incident. The second video shows Valencia firing a shot in the air and other events leading up to him being struck by Rapiejko:
2. The Tuscon Police Chief Says the Officer Saved Lives, Including the Suspect’s
Tuscon Police Chief Terry Rozema told CNN he supports Rapiejko’s maneuver:
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. 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.’ But the entire community is safe, all the officers are safe, and even the suspect in this case is safe.
Rozema said Rapiejko’s decision to stop Valencia may have saved the suspect’s life, as well as the lives of officers and the public put in harm’s way by Valencia.
3. The Suspect’s Attorney Calls Rapiejko’s Maneuver ‘Excessive Force’
Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, disagreed with the Tucson chief’s take on the situation, telling CNN:
Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force. It is miraculous that my client isn’t dead. I find it ludicrous to say that we’re saving this man’s life whose suicidal by almost killing him.
She said the officers didn’t try to de-escalate a situation involving a man who was “clearly suicidal, clearly in crisis,” according to CNN.
“My client’s back was turned and the officer drove right into him,” she told CNN. “It isn’t that dissimilar to a police officer shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.”
Valencia faces 15 charges, according to CNN, including aggravated assault, armed robbery and possession of a dangerous weapon by a prohibited possessor. He has a prior record, his attorney said.
4. Rapiejko Used to Work for the NYPD & Was Hired By the Marana Department in 2014
Rapiejko previously worked for the New York Police Department, according to the New York Daily News from 2005 to 2008 before joining the Tucson Police Department. He was hired by the Marana Police Department in 2014, according to the town’s official blog, Marana365.com.
Rapiejko is originally from New Jersey and graduated from the Mercer County Police Academy in 2008 after taking part in its “Alternate Route” program, according to a press release posted on NJ.com at the time. The Alternate Route program allows individuals who want to become a police officer the opportunity to complete a certified training program at his or her own expense, before applying for jobs, according to the academy’s website.
Rapiejko completed his training with 98 percent average test scores and was picked by his 36 classmates to speak at their graduation. He was also recognized with the academy’s academic achievement award.
He is described in a 2012 PoliceOne.com article about a fellow Tucson officer as a “fitness and nutrition fanatic.”
On a Tucson Crossfit gym’s website where Rapiejko is a coach, he talks about how he found the fitness program in 2012 and became a coach in 2013. He lists his nicknames as “Michael Wolfhunter” and “Robocop.”
He says on his profile on the CrossFit Games website that he played high school and college sports,
5. A NYC Resident Accused Rapiejko of Pointing a Gun at Him & Threatened to Shoot Him
In 2008, Rapiejko’s last of three years with the NYPD, he was sued in federal court for violating a suspect’s civil rights. New York City settled the lawsuit for $20,000, but did not admit wrongdoing, according to court filings.
The lawsuit, filed by New York City resident Luis Colon, stemmed from an incident that happened when Rapiejko was a rookie cop. Colon said on October 6, 2005 at about 8:30 p.m., he parked his car at the curb of on Bowery near Delancey Street and got out of his vehicle. Colon’s wife and four children were passengers in the car, according to the lawsuit.
Colon alleges in the suit that he was approached by Rapiejko, who pointed a gun at him, ordered him to get back into his car and threatened to shoot him. Colon got back into the car, he claimed, and Rapiejko pulled him back out, handcuffed him and choked him. Two other officers then arrived.
Colon was arrested, charged with obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. The charges were dismissed in April 2006.