Arizona police have released footage filmed from the dashboard of two separate patrol cars involved in a February incident that shows an officer ramming his patrol car into an armed robbery suspect, who then goes flying through the air.
The Marana police department praised the actions of officer Michael Rapiejko, who joined the Tucson police force in 2008 after three years with the NYPD, for his efforts in stopping armed suspect Mario Valencia, who had allegedly been on a morning-long, cross-town rampage that reportedly involved multiple robberies, arson, and breaking and entering.
"That's not an easy decision right there," Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema told Tucson News Now. "That's a tough, tough, tough decision. But he made it."
"What happens when this guy gets past us?" Rozema said. "We're looking at a potential hostage situation."
The incident began before 9am on the morning of February 19 when Valencia, 36, reportedly robbed a 7-Eleven convenience store in his underwear, according to the New York Daily News. He then allegedly broke into a church and set it on fire before burglarizing a home and stealing a car, police said.
Valencia then drove the car to a Walmart in Marana where he allegedly took a rifle and box of ammunition, authorities said.
One dashcam video, taken from a police cruiser trailing Valencia as he walks down the road, shows the suspect firing a rifle in the air and at one point threatening to kill himself with it by pointing it under his chin. It's later in the same video that a second squad vehicle is seen rushing at the suspect and knocking him down.
"Oh! Jesus Christ! Man down," an officer in the first police car can be heard shouting.
The second dashcam footage angle shows the incident from the point of view of Rapiejko's vehicle, which can be seen striking the suspect at high speed before crashing into a brick wall.
Valencia, who survived, was taken to a medical center where he was treated for two days before being transferred to prison, police said. He has been charged with two counts of armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and unlawful discharge of a firearm, authorities said.
Rapiejko was initially put on administrative leave for two days. He has since being cleared of wrongdoing by the Pima County Attorney's Office, and has returned to work, according to Marana Sgt. Chris Warren.
Valencia's attorney, a public defense lawyer, released a statement saying, "Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force."
"It's a miracle that he's not dead," Michelle Cohen Metzger said in the statement. "I'm hoping that the State takes into account my client's mental state at the time, as he intended to hurt no one."