An Arizona police officer who rammed his patrol car into an armed suspect during a tense situation in Marana in February told investigators he had no choice, according to police inquiry recordings released by the department.
"He’s refused commands, he’s holding what I believe to be a locked and loaded rifle, based on the transmission that he’s fired a round into the air, there’s occupied businesses, there’s two other officers at the end of the street," Marana Police Officer Michael Rapiejko said of the unorthodox tactic he used on Feb. 19. "This is what I deem at this point to be a lethal force encounter."
"I have two thoughts that go in my mind, I need to shoot him to stop the threat or I need to run him over to stop the threat," Rapiejko says in the recording. The recording was obtained by NBC station KVOA.
Rapiejko slammed his patrol car into Mario Valencia after Valencia allegedly fired a shot from a rifle into the air and was walking towards other officers and a business in Marana, a town of about 38,000 northwest of Tucson, on Feb. 19.
Rapiejko said in the inquiry recording that he was 50 yards away from Valencia, and felt that was too great a distance to safely take a shot.
According to police, earlier that day Valenica, 36, had held up a 7-Eleven in Tucson, started a fire at a church, and stole a car and drove it to a Marana Walmart. Once there he allegedly stole a rifle and a box of ammunition from the store, and removed the lock on the weapon and loaded it. At one point he pointed the rifle at his neck, police said.
Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen Metzger, has called the takedown an excessive use of police force, and said it was clear that Valencia was suicidal.
Valencia was hospitalized for two days after being hit by the patrol car, and his is currently being held at Pima County Jail on charges that include armed robbery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, arson, burglary and theft. He was arraigned on March 10 and pleaded not guilty. His next court date is May 18.
Marana’s police chief has praised Rapiejko’s actions and said he may have saved the lives of Valencia and others. The officer was cleared by the prosecutor’s office and returned to work after a three-day leave, police said. An administrative review is underway.
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