Dramatic dash-cam video showing an Arizona police officer using his cruiser to ram into a rifle-toting robbery suspect who had been walking down a street is getting nationwide attention today. Adding to a growing stream of images raising hard questions about police use of force, the video released yesterday shows the suspect being hit from behind and cart-wheeling through the air as the cruiser slams into a wall. The intentional, high-speed crash clearly shocked a fellow officer, who had just warned other police to stay back because the rifle was "definitely loaded." Prosecutors cleared Officer Michael Rapiejko of any wrongdoing in the ramming of the suspect, who survived the Feb. 19 crash. Mario Valencia, 36, apparently escaped major injuries and now faces several felony charges, including assault on an officer.
Marana police Sgt. Chris Warren said Valencia robbed a convenience store in Tucson, broke into a church, invaded a home, stole a car, and then drove to the northern suburb of Marana, where he stole a rifle from a Walmart. Video from two police cruisers shows Valencia walking with a rifle down a busy business corridor. At one point, Valencia points the rifle at himself and threatens to kill himself. At another, Valencia shoots the rifle into the air. One dash cam was on a cruiser following Valencia about a half-block away. Moments later, another patrol car suddenly comes into view and hits Valencia at high speed, sending him flying before smashing into a retaining wall. The camera in Rapiejko's cruiser provides a more first-person view, which ends with a shattered windshield. "Oh, Jesus Christ, man down!" the first officer shouts as police swarm the scene, guns drawn. Warren said Rapiejko was put on a standard administrative leave, but is back on regular duty.