WASHINGTON (AFP) - Arizona police released video showing an officer using his cruiser to intentionally run over a suspect, triggering new questions about what critics call excessive use of force by officers in the US.
But the police have defended the action, saying the suspect had refused to obey officers' commands to put down the rifle and was approaching an office building.
The suspect, Mario Valencia, survived.
In the dashcam video released on Tuesday, a gunshot is heard before Valencia is seen walking down a street in the town of Marana on Feb 19 with a rifle.
He is seen firing a shot in the air and then proceeding down the street as police slowly trail him in their vehicles.
Then a police car driven by officer Michael Rapiejko is caught on the dashcam rushing past and slamming into Valencia from the back before plowing into a cinderblock wall.
NOTE: This video contains images that may be disturbing to some viewers
Valencia survived the collision.
Marana police chief Terry Rozema defended the action, saying Valencia had refused to obey officers' commands to put down the rifle and was approaching an office building.
"We can't allow him to get to the point where he enters the office complex. We can't allow him the opportunity to take somebody in the parking lot hostage to do a carjacking."
"It's graphic, it's violent, but at the same token it warranted deadly force given all of the circumstances," he said, adding that the police officer "would have been completely justified in shooting this individual". The dramatic incident capped a crosstown crime spree, according to police, which say Valencia was fleeing from a Walmart store where he had stolen the rifle.
A fuller version of the video:
An investigation is underway to see whether he is also linked to earlier crimes in Tucson.
But the violent encounter was only the latest in a series of incidents that critics say demonstrates a pattern of police brutality and racism across the United States.
Hundreds of people in two dozen cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, on Tuesday protested fresh police killings of unarmed black men.
Rally organizers say US police have shot more than 90 unarmed people since January.
On Monday, a white volunteer deputy sheriff in Oklahoma was charged with second-degree manslaughter for shooting dead Eric Harris, 44, a suspect in an undercover gun-sale operation. He is now free on bail.
Last week, a South Carolina police officer was charged with murder after being filmed on video killing Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, as he fled a routine traffic stop on April 4.
The cellphone video shows the officer firing eight times as Scott was running away.
A series of killings last year of unarmed black men by mainly white police officers have sparked nationwide protests and raised charges of racism, reviving a national debate about the excessive use of police force.
The demonstrations were galvanized by the August 2014 police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in bitterly disputed circumstances. The officer involved in that case was not charged.