Prosecutors are contemplating felony charges against the 40-year-old driver who lurched through a Minneapolis street teeming with protesters in late November and ran into a teenage girl.
The case involving driver Jeffrey P. Rice, of St. Paul, has been turned over by police to the Hennepin County attorney’s office, spokesmen for both agencies said Monday.
The possibilities in the case range from a felony charge to no charge at all against Rice. He was not arrested after he ran into and slightly injured a 16-year-old girl as others were perched atop the hood of his Subaru wagon at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue late in the afternoon on Nov. 25.
“We charge, with rare exceptions, only felonies against adults, so that is what we would be looking at,” Chuck Laszewski, spokesman for the county attorney’s office, said Tuesday. He said there is no deadline for his office on how soon a charging decision must be made, because Rice is not in custody. However, he continued, “we want to get this case decided as soon as possible.”
Should the county decline to charge the driver, the case could move to the city attorney’s office for consideration of gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor charges.
Rice, who pulled over and called 911, was questioned by officers moments after he rolled through the crowd. Police said in an 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.”
Rice’s mother said in an interview on the day of the protest that her son was coming home from work and that he “didn’t even know what was going on” when he encountered the crowd.
Several hundred protesters were blocking the intersection as part of a national wave of demonstrations over the grand jury decision a day earlier to not seek charges against the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Mo.
Police spokesman John Elder said Tuesday night that he’s unaware of any case being made by his department against any of the protesters for possible charges.
The incident unfolded steps from the Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters, and much of it was captured on a Star Tribune video. Additional video from KSTP-TV showed that Rice paused behind a vehicle stopped in front of him, then steered to the right around that vehicle and drove slowly into the crowd. Three people were on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.
Rice’s driving history in Minnesota includes three drunken-driving convictions, with the most recent coming in 2003, according to court records. He also has been convicted of driving with an open liquor bottle and of driving after his license was canceled and in violation of restrictions placed on his license — the most recent of these in 2008.
All of the convictions were for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors. His sentences have included fines and probation, along with stints in jail or workhouse, records show. Officials said Rice’s driver’s license was valid at the time.