Arizona officer: I could shoot suspect or run him over

Officer: I ran over a suspect to stop the threat
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Story highlights

  • Officer Michael Rapiejko said he needed to use lethal force to stop the suspect
  • Mario Valencia was carrying a rifle and fired one round into the air
  • Rapiejko said two options crossed his mind and it was too far to shoot Valencia

(CNN)The Arizona police officer who slammed into an armed suspect with his patrol car told investigators he thought he was too far to take a shot at the man, so he chose the other option, CNN affiliate KVOA reported Wednesday.

Officer Michael Rapiejko ran his car into Mario Valencia in February as the suspect carried a rifle he had just fired in the air. Rapiejko sped around another officer as Valencia walked through a business park, hit the man from behind with the left side of his front bumper.
Valencia, who flew through this air, survived and faces more than a dozen charges for an alleged crime spree that day.
    His lawyer has said police used excessive force and could have killed a man who was obviously unstable. The Marana Police Department has defended Rapiejko, saying deadly force was warranted because the suspect had a rifle, ammunition and was walking toward offices where hundreds of people work. Marana is just northwest of Tucson.
    KVOA obtained police inquiry tapes on which Rapiejko tells investigators why he chose his car as a weapon. The officer, who has been a cop for more than a decade but joined the Marana Police Department in 2014, said he was 50 yards away from the suspect and worried a missed shot might hit another officer or bystanders.
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    erin intv burnett terry rozema arizona police chief_00020901

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    "There were occupied businesses, and there were two officers at the other side of the street," he says on the recording. "This is what I deem as 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."
    Another officer, who was slowing trailing Valencia and ahead of Rapiejko, says on another recording that if a civilian had stumbled upon Valencia, the suspect might have taken a hostage or killed the person.
    Video of the car striking Valencia sparking nationwide debate on what type of force police should use to go after armed suspects. Many people commended the officer. Some people said the police should have set up a perimeter around the man and talked him into surrendering.
    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.
    Valencia's attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, told CNN last week that "it is miraculous that my client isn't dead."
    Valencia, who is in Pima County Jail, is scheduled to appear in court again on May 18. Authorities chose not to charge Rapiejko.