Vargas: Video of cop using vehicle to stop suspect is only one part of the story


Like most of the country, I’m sure a lot of you have an opinion about the viral video that shows a police officer using his vehicle as a weapon in Marana, Ariz.

A deranged suspect is running around town on a crime spree. He’s robbed a 7-11, stolen a car, broken into a church and tried to burn it down and lastly has robbed a Walmart, arming himself with a rifle.

At one point the suspect is walking down the street armed with the loaded rifle. He holds the rifle up to his chin as if to threaten suicide when an officer approaches. Just to make sure the police officers are on their toes he fires a shot into the air as he walks away.

Somewhere in the midst of this chaos, Officer Michael Rapiejko makes a split- second decision to take out the suspect. As the suspect is walking away, he drives his police vehicle into him.

The end result is the suspect is no longer a danger to himself or the public.

The action was captured on dashcam video recorders and later released by the department. Within hours, it became a national news story.

The use of the vehicle as a weapon is what has now become a point of contention in the media.

Officer Rapiejko has alternately been described as a hero or another example of an out-of-control police officer. The officer’s actions seem to have attracted more criticism in mainstream media than in the blogs, which are highly supportive.

The majority of the public — both those who support the actions of Officer Rapiejko and those who find his actions deplorable — have based their judgment on roughly the few minutes of video released by the department.

But video has its limitations. Two-dimensional recordings are incapable of capturing the entirety of the unfolding drama occurring on the screen.

Most of the public watched the 20-second clip broadcast by television media over and over again. The video I saw was 3 minutes and 21 seconds and reveals just a bit more. And even this longer video is just a snippet of what Officer Rapiejko probably took into account in the moments before deciding to take action.

There is a lot you just don’t see — most notably, the numerous thoughts an officer is taking into consideration in the chaotic moments when an armed gunman is roaming the streets of your city at will.

What about pedestrians? If you watch the entire video there is pedestrian who walks by seemingly unaware of the potential danger walking right by him. How many other pedestrians are there?

What about the businesses or residences in the area? What if the suspect decides to enter one of these occupied residences or businesses? Do you have a potential hostage situation? What is the worst that can happen?

What about vehicle traffic in the area? What if the suspect approaches a driver and decides to carjack the vehicle? What if, in the process, he shoots the driver?

Tactically how close can the officers get before they are in harm’s way? A rifle is a long-range weapon. The officers in the video are definitely within range and putting themselves at risk. A rifle trumps a handgun in most armed combat situations involving distance.

What happens if the officers decide to approach? There is little or no cover available for protection. What if a shootout ensues? Where are all the bullets flying through the air going to end up?

How do you safely approach a mobile suspect who has already committed serious crimes, is acting bizarrely, is armed with a rifle and has already fired at least one shot? And you only have seconds to decide what to do?

If the suspect is allowed to continue unabated and in the process injures or kills an innocent bystander there will be a lot of explaining to do.

None of the officer’s decision-making processes are captured on the video. Yet critics are quick to judge the officer’s actions simply because they look bad.

Chief Terry Rozema of the Marana Police Department said it best during a CNN interview:

“This officer made a split-second decision, and in retrospect, when all the dust clears, I think we look at this and say, yeah, there’s things we can learn from this, but the entire community is safe, all the officers are safe, and even the suspect in this case is safe.”

The stage has already been set for the coming lawsuit. The suspect’s attorney has already held a news conference making a case for excessive force. I’m sure the video will be exhibit No. 1. Thankfully, in a courtroom, it will only be one part of the story.

 Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at