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Dashcam video shows Arizona officer intentionally running over suspect, chief says move justified

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WARNING: The video you’ll see below is graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.

(CNN) — An Arizona police chief on Wednesday supported an officer’s decision to drive his car into an armed suspect, saying that although the move could have killed the suspect, deadly force was justified.

Video of the incident, recorded February 19 by the dashboard cameras of two Marana police cars, shows one of the cars running into a suspect with who had a rifle in the city about a half hour from Tucson.

Mario Valencia

Mario Valencia

The suspect, 36-year-old Mario Valencia, survived and was hospitalized before being criminally charged. Marana police Chief Terry Rozema was asked Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day” whether police were fortunate that Valencia didn’t die.

“That very well may be … that it’s luck that he is still alive. The fact of the matter remains, though, deadly force was authorized,” Rozema said.

“So if he ends up dying in that situation, (then) he ends up dying, and that’s unfortunate, (but) that’s not the desire of everybody,” the chief added.

The footage has stirred debate about what type of force police should have used.

In one of the dashcam videos, an officer who was tailing a walking Valencia at slow speed reports over the radio that the suspect has fired one round in the air with a rifle he is accused of stealing that morning from a Walmart.

Another patrol car zooms past, runs into the man from behind, then hits a short cinder block wall next to a driveway. Video from Officer Michael Rapiejko’s camera shows Rapiejko’s vehicle running into Valencia, with the windshield smashing as the car hits the wall.

Police in Marana justified Rapiejko’s actions.

“We don’t know that if (Rapiejko) lets him go for another 10 seconds, (Valencia) doesn’t take somebody out in the parking lot,” Rozema said. “And then we’re answering some completely different questions: ‘Why didn’t you act sooner? … This guy had a gun … Why didn’t you stop this guy before he shot my wife, before he shot my husband, before he shot my child?’ ”

The video has stirred debate about what type of force police should have used to detain the man. Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, told CNN on Tuesday that “it is miraculous that my client isn’t dead.”

“Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force, Cohen-Metzger said.

Timeline of events

Tucson Police Sgt. Pete Dugan told CNN that Valencia was involved in several incidents there the day he was struck.

At 6:45 a.m. on February 19, Valencia allegedly robbed a 7-Eleven in Tucson with a metal object in his hand. Authorities said he was dressed only in his underwear. He was charged with theft.

A little more than an hour later, police said, Valencia set a fire at a church for which he was charged with arson of an occupied structure.

Just after that he entered a home and stole a car, police said.

Authorities said he drove to a Walmart in Marana, where he allegedly stole a .30-30 rifle and ammunition. He fled the store with Walmart employees in pursuit.

Police encountered him in a business park walking down the road. An officer told him several times to drop the rifle, Lt. Tim Brunenkant with Marana police said in an email containing a timeline of events.

Valencia, police said, walked away from the officer, turned a corner and stopped. Valencia pointed the rifle at the officer then walked away again toward a Coca-Cola bottling plant and another business.

“As Mario Valencia briskly walked towards Sargent Controls (local manufacturer), Officer Michael Rapiejko uses his marked police car to stop the dangerous situation Mario Valencia created,” Brunenkant wrote.

Brunenkant also said by phone that before Rapiejko’s encounter with Valencia, the suspect had pointed the rifle at his head multiple times and threatened suicide before fleeing.

Rozema said that Valencia’s firing of the weapon, his refusal to obey the first officer’s commands to drop the gun and the pointing of the gun at the officer were key.

“And so you have another officer who sees and seizes an opportunity to end the threat and put an end to the situation,” the chief said.

Cohen-Metzger criticized the fact that Rapiejko hit Valencia from behind.

“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.”

CNN affiliate KOLD reported Valencia was in serious condition when he was taken to the hospital and was released into police custody two days later.

Fifteen charges

Valencia faces 15 charges, including three counts of aggravated assault, three counts of armed robbery and possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor. Cohen-Metzger said he had a prior record.

His next court appearance is May 18. He is in the Pima County Jail.

Authorities said no charges have been brought against the officer.

26 comments

  • bk

    I’m glad that officer took down the active shooter. It’s crazy knowing that there is people out there like that willing to die with no regards to life.

  • s holmes

    In Mil. the officer would have 15 charges against him. It sure would be nice to live in a city with a conservative mayor & chief.

    • D

      Ummmm no one ever said he was trained to do this. He made a split second decision. At least nobody was killed because if this idiot suspect

    • Jack

      I am trained to use deadly force by vehicle! It’s taught all over in law enforcement. I would suggest you notify your law enforcement family so they can get up to “speed”

  • Spiffy

    Deadly force is deadly force. Whether it’s a bullet or squad. I commend the officer for his quick thinking and his dynamic application. Give him a medal!

  • TheTruth

    Who cares? I wish he had died from getting hit by the car. These same m$r$ns complaining about how he was taken down would have went on an anti-gun tirade if they hadn’t taken him out. This nut-job was on a mission to kill people. Liberals blame guns, knives, and cars. They don’t blame the people doing the acts. The cop was in the right taking him out with a car in this case tho. Sometimes people use their cars as a weapon when they shouldn’t like that rapper that murdered people by running them over.

    • mike

      He was not on a mission to kill people. If he was, I and the rest of my family would have been killed or injured. I was 2 feet from Mr Velencia wgen he stole the rifle an ammo. He was out to hurt himself or maybe have a cop kill him.

      • John

        Well you should have manned up and made a citizens arrest instead of letting someone steal a gun and ammo 2 feet from you. Thankfully he didn’t decide to load it in the store and use it on you or your family.

  • WHO RAY

    GOD BLESS THE OFFICER THAT RAN HIM OVER , THINGS COULD HAVE COME OUT ALOT WORSE IF THIS OFFICER HAD NOT DONE WHAT HE`D DONE, ALL ARE ALIVE

    • Reasonless

      Who Ray,
      Your caps button is stuck on.
      It takes away from the point that you are trying to make.
      You look like a fourth grader with angry thumbs.

      Please fix your keyboard.

  • BS

    Funny how none of the other cops – the one directly behind the guy in particular – chose not to make the same “split second decision.” If the ramming cop was in the right, then should not the other cop(s) be disciplined for failing to take proper action?

    • stark148@gmail.com

      it was a judgment call. Better that then allowing the shooter to turn around, get a sight picture on you and start shooting as you throw the car in park, exit the vehicle, and take cover, possibly taking rounds during the process.

  • bobc

    They should have parked the car on top of him and made sure he was incapacitated.. I’d dare anyone to get out of their car and confront a man with a 30-.30 rifle while armed only with a handgun.. it won’t end well for you.. Good decision making on the cop, where the threat is the only person in danger of bodily harm or death.

  • Rob

    I am getting fed up watching the news every morning and seeing stories of these poor unfortunate victims that are being brutalized by members of our law enforcement. Maybe I’m too militant or a cold hearted person, but here’s a simple solution. I may be way off key here,,, but quit committing crimes and running from law enforcement! If a police officer tells you to get on the ground, well,,, get on the ground! If you don’t want to get beat, quit resisting! Its really that simple! If you’re out there committing crimes, running through neighborhoods waving a gun, I’d rather the police run you over a thousand times than for you to accidentally shoot an innocent person. If you get beat, shot, ran over when you’re resisting arrest, too bad and I really don’t care. On the flip side, if you are wrongfully detained and have a problem with how you were treated, follow the proper protocols and file a complaint with the agency. If your problem is not resolved to the letter of the law (not necessarily how you want it resolved), retain an attorney and fight it. If you don’t like the law, petition your congressman and senators. Laws are put in place for a reason. If you break the law, expect to be punished. If you don’t know the law, go to school, learn how to read and then read up. If you have a learning disability, feel free to visit your local police station and ask any one of the brave men and women that protect us and they will gladly educate you. Quit blaming society for your shortcomings.

  • skeets2086 (@skeets2086)

    though his actions were brave, they were also stupid..all the suspect had to do is turn around and fire at the officer, or side step the police car and the officer could be shot. One officer is controlling the event and the second one took actions into his own hands…luckily it turned out good.

Comments are closed.