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Video Shows Arizona Officer Ramming Into Robbery Suspect

TUCSON, Ariz. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Dramatic dash-cam video shows a former New York City cop, now working in a Tucson suburb, using his cruiser to ram an armed suspect, sending him flying in the air before the car smashes into a wall.

The man survived the Feb. 19 crash, and prosecutors cleared the officer of any wrongdoing.

The video released Tuesday and now getting attention across the U.S. comes at a time of heightened tension over the use of force by police across the country.

The man who was hit, Mario Valencia, 36, faces several felony charges, including assault on a police officer.

Valencia was rushed to the hospital in serious condition and treated for blunt force trauma, CBS2's Mary Calvi reported. Two days later, he was transferred to jail.

"Quite honestly, it's miraculous that my client didn't die," Valencia's attorney, Michelle Cohen-Metzger, said. "He hit him full speed ahead."

Marana police Sgt. Chris Warren said Valencia robbed a convenience store in Tucson, broke into a church, invaded a home and stole a car. Valencia drove the stolen car to Marana, just north of Tucson, where he stole a rifle from a Walmart.

Video from two different police cruisers shows Valencia walking down a busy business corridor with a rifle in his hands. At one point, Valencia points the rifle at himself and threatens to kill himself.

One of the dash-cam videos shows an officer slowly driving behind Valencia as he shoots the rifle in the air. That officer tells others to stay back because the suspect is armed.

But within seconds, a different officer drives his patrol car at high speed and rams into Valencia, sending him flying into the air. Officers with guns drawn quickly swarm the scene.

The police chief said the officers' move likely saved lives.

"That's not an easy decision right there," Chief Terry Rozema said. "That's a tough, tough, tough decision. But he made it."

The officer has been identified as Michael Rapiejko. Warren said Rapiejko was put on a standard administrative leave because the incident was considered use of force. The Pima County Attorney's Office cleared Rapiejko of any wrongdoing and he is back on the force, Warren said.

But Valencia's attorney said the police were out of line.

"I've also heard them say that they saved his life, and I find that to be a very strange statement, to then use deadly force against that person and almost kill them by plowing into them with your vehicle," Cohen-Metzger said.

Chief Rozema said Rapiejko's actions could have prevented a tragedy.

"You can sit back and Monday morning quarterback this till you're blue in the face. You give him another two seconds, and maybe he would've given him another ten seconds, who knows, give him another fifteen seconds and oh my God we've got another national tragedy on our hands," he said.

Rapiejko was not injured in the collision.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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