Police released dash cam video of an officer using his patrol car to intentionally run over a suspect. Although the suspect’s attorney has accused the officer of using excessive force, Marana Police Chief Terry Rozema defended the officer’s actions and commended him for potentially saving lives. The officer has not been indicted on any criminal charges.
According to the police, Mario Valencia allegedly robbed a 7-Eleven in Tucson while wearing only his underwear and brandishing a metal object at 6:45 a.m. on February 19. Over an hour later, Valencia reportedly broke into the Tucson Baptist Temple and set a fire at the church. After breaking into a home and stealing a car, Valencia drove to a Walmart where he stole a .30-.30 rifle and ammunition.
After abandoning his stolen car and fleeing from Walmart on foot, Valencia encountered Marana police officers in a business park. According to Lt. Tim Brunenkant, an officer ordered Valencia to drop the rifle several times. Instead of complying, Valencia reportedly aimed the rifle at his own head and threatened to commit suicide. Before turning the corner and walking toward a Coca-Cola bottling plant, Valencia allegedly pointed the gun at an officer but did not fire.
Dash cam video from two patrol cars following Valencia shows officers cautiously approaching him. An officer hears Valencia fire a gunshot into the air and reports, “One round just went out into the sky. It’s definitely unlocked now, it’s definitely loaded.”
As the first officer warns his fellow cops to back off, Officer Michael Rapiejko hits the accelerator and runs down Valencia from behind. Video from Rapiejko’s patrol car reveals him ramming Valencia and immediately smashing his windshield after crashing into a wall.
Valencia was transported to University of Arizona Medical Center in serious condition. He remained hospitalized for two days before being transferred to Pima County Jail. 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.
“If we’re going to choose between maybe we’ll let him go a little bit farther and see what happens, or we’re going to take him out now and eliminate any opportunity he has to hurt somebody, you’re going to err on the side of, in favor of the innocent people,” stated Police Chief Terry Rozema.
But Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, responded by pointing out that officers did not attempt to de-escalate a situation involving a clearly suicidal man. Instead of establishing a perimeter and negotiating with Valencia, Rapiejko appeared to use excessive force by running down the suspect from behind with his patrol car.
“My client’s back was turned and the officer drove right into him,” Cohen-Metzger asserted. “It isn’t that dissimilar to a police officer shooting a fleeing suspect in the back.”
After a few days, the police department and county attorneys cleared Rapiejko of any criminal charges.
Valencia is scheduled to appear in court on May 18.