The Hennepin County attorney's office said Thursday that it will not charge a 40-year-old motorist who rolled through a crowd of protesters last fall at a busy Minneapolis intersection, where he knocked over and slightly injured one of the participants.
Within hours of the county attorney's announcement, police said they will send the case to the city attorney's office for possible misdemeanor charges.
"After reviewing all of the facts from the police investigation," said a statement from the county attorney's office regarding driver Jeffrey P. Rice, "prosecutors determined that the actions Mr. Rice took did not reflect intent or actions that constitute a crime that could be charged."
The county attorney's office statement noted that Rice "possibly hit a demonstrator" but could not be prosecuted under the statute it considered, which addresses drivers' actions after being involved in a crash. The office declined to elaborate further on the decision.
Hennepin County prosecutors handle all felony cases in their jurisdiction and select gross misdemeanors. The city attorney's office has the option of prosecuting Rice, of St. Paul, on a gross misdemeanor or a misdemeanor for the Nov. 25 incident during a protest at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue.
Police spokesman John Elder said Thursday afternoon that his department will take the case to city prosecutors "for their review and possible charging."
Ghea Ebrahem, 24, one of the protesters that day, said, "It's unfortunate that someone could commit a crime by hitting someone … and not have consequences at all. But I'm not shocked [by the county attorney's decision]. I definitely expected it."
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. Ebrahem said she was among those who moved in front of Rice's car to pull the teen to safety.
After driving through the crowd, Rice pulled over, called 911 and was questioned by officers moments later near the police department's Third Precinct headquarters.
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 did not respond to a telephone message Thursday seeking reaction to the county attorney's decision. His mother said in an interview on the day of the incident that her son was coming home from work and that he "didn't even know what was going on" when he encountered the crowd.