(MARANA, Ariz.) — A man who witnessed an Arizona police officer ramming a suspect with his patrol car defended the officer’s actions — and said he worried a shootout could have ensued if the officer hadn’t acted.
“If they got into a gunfight, there would have been rounds flying all over the place,” said David Lightfoot, who watched the situation unfold on Feb. 19 in front of his office.
Video from the incident gained national attention after it was released Tuesday. Dash cam footage from Marana Police Officer Michael Rapiejko’s car shows him ramming his vehicle into Mario Valencia, a suspect who had allegedly committed a string of crimes earlier that day.
Those crimes allegedly include robbing a 7-Eleven, breaking into a church and stealing a car. Valencia was also seen on camera allegedly stealing a rifle and ammunition from Walmart.
Valencia was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of armed robbery and unlawful discharge of a firearm.
Valencia was seen walking with a loaded rifle before he was struck by the police vehicle. Despite officers’ pleas to put the gun down, Valencia ignored those requests — and fired the gun, according to the video.
Officers say they feared Valencia would shoot someone.
John Cohen, an expert in law enforcement and homeland security, defended the officer’s methods at subduing the suspect.
“The officers’ actions were unconventional, however, they were effective,” Cohen said. “He was able to stop a very violent situation and at the same time, do it in a way that protected his fellow officers, the public and even the suspect himself.”
But Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen Metzger, says the circumstances don’t justify such a violent tactic.
“I think that there’s all sorts of other things that the police have been trained on and could have done. The officer that used this tactic certainly went outside protocol in using that and I don’t think that was the only means with which to have taken my client into custody,” Metzger said.
Rapiejko will not be charged in the matter, according to the local district attorney’s office.
Valencia was hospitalized for two days after the incident, according to police. He was charged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of armed robbery and unlawful discharge of a firearm.
On Wednesday, the local district attorney’s office decided not to charge Rapiejko.
“Given all of the circumstances of this case, there is insufficient evidence to prove that Officer Repiejko had the requisite criminal intent for aggravated assault,” reads the letter from Pima County attorney Barbara LaWall to the police chief, dated March 31.
The letter details how Rapiejko came to the decision to hit Valencia.
“As Officer Rapiejko arrived in the area, he could see Mr. Valencia was headed toward some businesses,” the letter reads. “There were also other officers in the area. Officer Rapiejko was approximately fifty yards away. Officer Rapiejko determined that Mr Valencia would be able to fire the gun quickly at businesses and therefore decided he needed to stop Mr. Valencia from proceeding any further.”
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