An Arizona police officer who rammed his car into an armed suspect , in a shocking incident that was caught on his own dashboard camera, was the subject of an earlier lawsuit in which he was accused of using excessive force, it has emerged.
Michael Rapiejko, 34, was behind the wheel of the police cruiser that was shown on film driving at high speed into a man who was carrying a rifle as he walked towards a row of businesses in Marana, Arizona.
Rapiejko had worked in Tucson, Arizona, prior to moving to Marana around 18 months ago. Before that, he was a member of the New York police department (NYPD).
While working for the NYPD in 2005, Rapiejko, who was in his early 20s at the time, was accused of pointing his gun at a driver and then choking him, it was reported . The lawsuit was settled in 2008, with the plaintiff receiving $20,000.
According to court documents, in October 2005 Luis Colon was driving through Manhattan with his wife and four children. He stopped his car and got out of the vehicle – although it is not clear from court records whether he had been pulled over by the police or stopped of his own accord.
In the lawsuit, Colon said he was approached by Rapiejko, who pointed his gun at him, ordered him to get back in the car and threatened to shoot him. He later pulled Colon back out of the car, handcuffed him and choked him, the complaint stated.
Rapiejko arrested Colon, who was charged with obstructing government administration, disorderly conduct and resisting a police officer. All the charges were eventually dropped and as a condition of the settlement Colon had to dismiss all other claims.
The defense team denied some of the allegations, while admitting that Rapiejko had pointed a gun at the plaintiff and ordered him to get back in his car. The lawsuit was settled in December 2008, the same year Rapiejko reportedly left New York and joined the Tucson police department, for reasons not stated.
The NYPD has yet to comment.
Almost a decade later, after Rapiejko had moved to Marana, he used his cruiser to knock down 36-year-old Mario Valencia.
Video recordings of the February incident, including dashboard-camera footage from the officer’s patrol car, did not become public until this month. The footage has caused controversy, as it comes on the heels of fierce controversy over recent fatal shootings of unarmed suspects by police and allegedly excessive force used in other arrests.
Valencia received hospital treatment and is now in custody facing 15 charges, including theft of the rifle and bullets from a Walmart store. His lawyer, Michelle Cohen Metzger, called Rapiejko’s actions unjustified.
The Marana police department has said that while the officer’s action was unconventional, he was trying to prevent Valencia from reaching a row of businesses where he could potentially have unleashed a tragedy.
The incident is under investigation.
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