The motorist who rolled through a busy Minneapolis intersection packed Ferguson street protesters last November, slightly injuring one demonstrator, was charged Tuesday afternoon with three misdemeanor traffic violations.
Jeffrey P. Rice, 40, of St. Paul, was charged in Hennepin County District Court with reckless or careless driving, careless driving and failure to avoid colliding with a pedestrian. Rice was charged by summons and has an April 14 court date.
Last month, the county attorney’s office decided not to charge Rice with a felony in connection with when he drove through the protesters late in the afternoon on Nov. 25 at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue, where he knocked over one of the participants. The case was then presented by police to the city attorney’s office for potential prosecution on misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor counts.
Rice admitted to police that he saw the people in the street before he went ahead and “drove through them,” the criminal complaint read.
In a statement explaining the charges, City Attorney Susan Segal said, “The law requires drivers to use due care to avoid pedestrians. We don’t believe that standard was met in this case.”
Rice’s attorney, Kevin Sieben, declined to address the specifics of the allegations, but did say, “We’re disappointed in the charges, and he’s looking forward to his day in court.”
Several hundred protesters were blocking the intersection that afternoon as part of a national wave of demonstrations over the grand jury decision a day earlier not to charge a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Mo.
Rice ran into and slightly injured a 16-year-old girl as others were perched atop the hood of his Subaru wagon. After driving slowly through the crowd, Rice pulled over, called 911 and was questioned by officers moments later.
His mother said in an interview that evening that her son was coming home from work and “didn’t even know what was going on” when he encountered the crowd.
Police said in their initial incident report that his vehicle was being damaged as he “was attempting to flee from the mob.” The report initially listed Rice as a “victim” and the injured girl under a category marked “other.” Later in the day, police changed the listing of Rice to “suspect.”
The criminal complaint filed against Rice elaborated on each charge:
• Reckless or careless driving, based on “willful of wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.”
• Careless driving, based on a “disregard of the rights of others, or in a manner that endangers or is likely to endanger any property of any person.”
• Failure to avoid colliding with a pedestrian, based on the lack of “due care to avoid colliding with a bicycle or pedestrian upon a roadway.”
Upon conviction, each charge calls for punishment of 0 to 90 days in jail and a fine ranging from $0 to $1,000. Misdemeanor offenses such as these rarely lead to incarceration.
Until this incident, Rice’s driving history in Minnesota shows no moving violations since early 2008. Before that, however, it includes three drunken driving convictions, with the most recent coming in 2003, according to court records. He’s also been convicted of driving with an open liquor bottle, and driving after his license was canceled and in violation of restrictions placed on his license.
The charging document filed Tuesday described what police allege were Rice’s actions as he came upon the protesters:
Rice stopped behind a white vehicle in the middle lane of eastbound Lake Street before reaching Minnehaha Avenue. There was a large crowd in the intersection, including several people in front of the white vehicle ahead of the defendant’s.
Rice then pulled into the right eastbound lane of Lake and “began to drive through the crowd of people in the street,” the complaint read. “There were several people directly in front of the defendant’s vehicle as the defendant drove through the crowd. At least two people were on the hood of defendant’s vehicle as he drove through the crowd.”
Rice ran into a teenage girl and pushed her for several feet, prompting several people in the crowd to attack the driver’s car. Rice halted for several seconds as his car was being hit by fists and objects.
Rice resumed driving, nearly hitting a vehicle in the intersection. He stopped about a mile later and called 911.
“The defendant admitted to a Minneapolis Police Department traffic investigator that he saw the crowd of people in the street before he drove through them,” the complaint concluded.