By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona police officer has been cleared of wrongdoing after he crashed his cruiser into an armed suspect in an incident that was captured by dashcam video and went viral online.
A six-member police review board found that Officer Michael Rapiejko's actions during the arrest in February were "appropriate, reasonable and timely" under the circumstances, a Marana Police Department report said on Wednesday.
Footage of the incident recorded by a camera on another officer's vehicle showed the 36-year-old suspect, Mario Miranda Valencia, apparently shooting a rifle in the air while walking down a street in the town of Marana, about 25 miles northwest of Tucson.
Rapiejko is then seen speeding into the frame, striking the suspect and launching him into the air before the officer's cruiser crashes into a wall.
Valencia was arrested and booked into county jail on suspicion of multiple felony charges after spending two days in the hospital. Rapiejko was not injured.
"Officer Rapiejko made the decision not to shoot the suspect based on the firearms available to him, the scene behind the suspect and the rapidly evolving nature of the situation," the police review board's report said.
The suspect was being sought in connection with an alleged crime spree that included an armed robbery at a convenience store, a church burglary and arson, and a home invasion and vehicle theft, police said. He is also believed to have stolen a hunting rifle and ammunition from a Wal-Mart.
Police said Valencia refused to drop the gun and surrender when officers spotted him.
Rapiejko was awarded a medal of valor by the department last week for "conspicuous acts of heroism" stemming from the incident, said police spokesman Sergeant Chris Warren.
Rapiejko has since left the police force to attend law school, Warren added.
He said the officer's decision to leave had nothing to do with the incident and was made long before it occurred.
(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)