Department clears officer who hit armed man with car

Astrid Galvan
Associated Press

Tucson, Ariz. — The only thing an Arizona police officer did wrong during an encounter in which he used his cruiser to ram an armed suspect was curse at two civilians who got too close to the action, according to reports released Wednesday.

An internal review by the Marana Police Department just north of Tucson found that Officer Michael Rapiejko acted swiftly and correctly when he used the car to stop Mario Valencia, 36. Police say Valencia had embarked on a daylong crime spree before stealing a rifle and shooting it in the air near a busy row of businesses.

The encounter was captured on two dashcam videos that police released in April and that quickly went viral at a time when police actions are being scrutinized.

“The board finds that Officer Rapiejko clearly saw the ‘big picture’ of this incident and began forming a plan of action while responding,” the review board wrote. “In order to stop the suspect immediately, Officer Rapiejko chose the quickest, most accurate and effective method of force he felt was available, his patrol car.”

The Pima County attorney’s office has declined to file charges against the officer, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove Rapiejko had criminal intent when he struck Valencia.

Valencia’s attorney could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. She said in April that Rapiejko used excessive force and was unjustified in using his car to ram Valencia, who suffered minor injuries. Valencia remains jailed and faces multiple charges, including assault on an officer.

The incident unfolded quickly after police received reports of a man who had stolen a rifle from a Walmart store and was walking around with it.

The internal review found that a different officer failed to act quickly enough or communicate adequately with his colleagues.

Rapiejko, who was previously an officer with the New York City and Tucson police departments, told investigators he believed using his car to stop Valencia was the only viable option.

He was too far — about 50 yards away — to shoot accurately with a handgun, and his own rifle was in the trunk of his car. Valencia was quickly approaching a business and ignoring commands to put down the weapon.

Rapiejko received a “verbal reminder” for his use of profanity, which the review board found violated department policy.