The driver who lurched into a south Minneapolis intersection packed with protesters Tuesday was “attempting to flee from the mob” when he ran into and slightly injured a 16-year-old girl as others perched on the hood of his car, police said Wednesday.
The driver, Jeffrey Patrick Rice, 40, was questioned moments after he drove through the crowd late Tuesday afternoon on eastbound Lake Street at Minnehaha Avenue S. Police said Wednesday that the case “remains under investigation.” Rice, of St. Paul, was not arrested, and no charges have been filed.
His mother said in an interview that Rice was coming home from work and “didn’t even know what was going on” when he encountered the group of several hundred people. The protestors were blocking the intersection as part of a day of demonstrations over Monday’s grand jury decision on the Ferguson, Mo., police shooting.
The girl who was run over by the horn-blaring Subaru station wagon was taken by emergency responders to Regions Hospital for minor injuries. Police withheld her identity because she is a juvenile.
“The victim’s vehicle was damaged by a large group of people,” said the report released early Wednesday by police. “While [the driver] was attempting to flee from the mob, he struck a pedestrian. State accident report filed.”
The Wednesday morning police report 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.” They did not provide additional information or immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rice’s driving history in Minnesota 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 most recent of these convictions came in early 2008.
All of Rice’s convictions have been for misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors. His sentences have included fines and probation along with stints either in jail or the workhouse, court records show.
State officials said Rice has a valid driver’s license.
Rice’s encounter with the demonstrators unfolded within a few steps of the Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters, and much of it was captured on a Star Tribune video. Additional video from KSTP-TV shows 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 blocking the intersection. There were three people on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.
After the girl fell to the pavement, the crowd erupted in screams. Some people ounded on the windshield and windows while the car was stopped momentarily. Rice then moved forward again, knocking down a few more people, the TV video shows.
Gea Ebrahem said she was one of the protesters hit after Rice resumed moving. She said she moved in front of the car to join others who were trying to lift a tire off the teen and pull her to safety.
“My head was in front of the bumper,” said Ebrahem, 24. “I ended up at the bottom of everybody.”
The people who were on the hood of the car, she continued, “didn’t jump on the car because they wanted to. They got hit, and it was a natural reaction [to get onto the hood].”
Despite the momentary mayhem, Ebrahem said, “I just want people to know that the rally was peaceful.”
Soon after leaving the intersection, Rice pulled over and called 911, police spokesman John Elder said Wednesday. No one else was hurt, according to police.
City officials said Wednesday that organizers did not need a permit to hold their protest, despite concerns about the potential disruptions to traffic.
Elder said police were still “actively investigating” the incident before turning the case over to the Hennepin County attorney’s office to decide whether charges are appropriate.
On Monday, before the Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting teenager Michael Brown, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau made an effort to strike a balance between respecting free speech and keeping the public safe.
“We believe it is very important for the public to be heard on this matter as part of the democratic process, and we realize the law enforcement community needs public support to be effective,” the chief said. “We ask for everyone’s help in maintaining a safe and secure city while respecting private property.”
Star Tribune staff writers Libor Jany and Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482