The driver who lurched into a south Minneapolis intersection packed with Ferguson protesters was “attempting to flee from the mob” when he ran over and slightly injured a 16-year-old girl as others were atop the hood of his car, police said Wednesday.
The driver, Jeffrey Patrick Rice, 40, was questioned moments after the incident late Tuesday afternoon on eastbound E. 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.
Rice’s mother said in an interview that he was coming home from work and “didn’t even know what was going on” when he encountered the crowd of several hundred blocking the intersection.
The girl who was run over by the horn-blaring Subaru station wagon was taken by emergency responders to Regions Hospital for treatment of minor injuries, police said.
“The victim’s vehicle was damaged by a large group of people,” reads 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 report released Wednesday morning listed Rice as a “victim” and the injured girl under the “other” category. 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. He’s also been convicted of driving with an open liquor bottle, and driving after his license was canceled and also in violation of restrictions placed on his license. The most recent of these convictions came in early 2008.
Much of the incident, unfolding within a few steps of the Police Department’s Third Precinct headquarters, was captured on a Star Tribune video. Additional aerial video from KSTP-TV, Channel 5, shows that Rice had paused behind a vehicle stopped in front of it, and then steered to the right around that vehicle and drove slowly into the crowd that was blocking the intersection. There were three people on the hood of his car as he knocked down the girl.
After the girl went to the pavement, the crowd erupted in screams, and some people violently pounded on the windshield and windows while the car was stopped momentarily. Rice then started again and knocked down a few more people, the TV video shows.
Gea Ebrahem said she was one of the protesters who was hit after Rice resumed moving. She said she moved in front of the car to join others who were trying to pull the girl to safety and try to lift the tire off the teen.
“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 yet dramatic mayhem, Ebrahem said, “I just want people to know that the rally was peaceful.”
Soon after, 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 disruption of traffic.
Elder said police were “actively investigating” the incident, before turning the case over to the Hennepin County attorney’s office “for consideration of charges.”
Police withheld the identity of the girl because she is a juvenile.
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 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