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Police chief: Hitting suspect with car was right decision
03:51 - Source: CNN

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Officer Michael Rapiejko was sued in New York over claims he used excessive force during an arrest

The city settled the lawsuit while Rapiejko and others admitted no guilt

Rapiejko left the NYPD voluntarily in 2006, source tells CNN

CNN  — 

The Arizona police officer who intentionally slammed his car into an armed suspect previously faced an excessive force lawsuit in New York, according to court documents.

Officer Michael Rapiejko was with the New York Police Department from 2003 to 2006. Two years after he left, he was one of the defendants in a suit filed by a man who alleged that Rapiejko pointed a gun and threatened to shoot him and handcuffed and choked him in front of his family during a 2005 arrest.

The lawsuit said Luis Colon had parked his car and gotten out when Rapiejko, with his gun aimed at Colon, ordered him back into the car.

During his arrest on charges of obstructing governmental administration, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Colon alleged he was yanked from the car, handcuffed and choked.

The charges against Colon were dropped six months later.

Colon also sued two unnamed officers who arrived after the initial confrontation, court documents show. Colon and the city settled the suit for $20,000. The settlement said the defendants were not admitting to any wrongdoing

Rapiejko had resigned voluntarily in 2006, and there is no indication of any disciplinary action against him from the NYPD, a senior law enforcement official told CNN. The NYPD has said that it will not release further details about Rapiejko.

Rapiejko’s actions in Marana, Arizona, in which he drove his patrol car into a man who had fired a rifle in the air minutes earlier and before that had pointed the gun at another officer, have stirred debate about what type of force police should have used.

Authorities said no charges have been brought against the officer for the February incident.

Suspect lived

The suspect, 36-year-old Mario Valencia, survived and was hospitalized before being criminally charged. Marana police Chief Terry Rozema was asked Wednesday on CNN’s “New Day” whether police were fortunate that Valencia didn’t die.

“That very well may be … that it’s luck that he is still alive. The fact of the matter remains, though, deadly force was authorized,” Rozema said.

“So if he ends up dying in that situation, (then) he ends up dying, and that’s unfortunate, (but) that’s not the desire of everybody,” the chief added.

In one of the dashcam videos, an officer who was tailing a walking Valencia at slow speed reports over the radio that the suspect has fired one round in the air with a rifle he is accused of stealing that morning from a Walmart.

Another patrol car zooms past, runs into the man from behind, then hits a short cinder block wall next to a driveway. Video from Officer Michael Rapiejko’s camera shows Rapiejko’s vehicle running into Valencia, with the windshield smashing as the car hits the wall.

Police in Marana justified Rapiejko’s actions.

“We don’t know that if (Rapiejko) lets him go for another 10 seconds, (Valencia) doesn’t take somebody out in the parking lot,” Rozema said. “And then we’re answering some completely different questions: ‘Why didn’t you act sooner? … This guy had a gun … Why didn’t you stop this guy before he shot my wife, before he shot my husband, before he shot my child?’ “

The video has stirred debate about what type of force police should have used to detain the man. Valencia’s attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, told CNN on Tuesday that “it is miraculous that my client isn’t dead.”

“Everything in the video seems to point towards an obvious excessive use of force, Cohen-Metzger said.

Fifteen charges

Tucson Police Sgt. Pete Dugan told CNN that Valencia was involved in several crimes there the day he was struck, including a stealing a car that he drove a half hour north to Marana.

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. Cohen-Metzger said he had a prior record.

His next court appearance is May 18. He is in the Pima County Jail.

Marana police on Thursday told CNN’s Miguel Marquez that a store gun lock was still on the rifle when it was recovered.

The wire that goes through the trigger and the lever to reload the gun were loose enough to allow it to still be used, police said.

CNN’s Tony Marco, Jason Hanna and Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley contributed to this report.