Baltimore lieutenant Brian Rice used his position to threaten ‘heads will roll’ if officers did not arrest his ex-girlfriend’s husband, police report reveals
The most senior Baltimore police officer charged over the death of Freddie Gray used his position to order the arrest of a man as part of a personal dispute just two weeks before the fatal incident, prompting an internal inquiry by Baltimore police department.
During an erratic late-night episode in March, Brian Rice boasted he was a lieutenant in the Baltimore police department and warned “heads will roll” if officers in a nearby city did not “go arrest” his ex-girlfriend’s husband, according to a police report obtained by the Guardian.
The incident is the latest in a series revealed by the Guardian that policing experts said raised questions over Rice’s ability to perform his duties as a supervising officer and the Baltimore department’s decision to keep him on front line patrols.
Two weeks later, it was Rice who initiated the arrest of Gray after the 25-year-old “made eye contact” with the lieutenant in a west Baltimore street and ran away. Gray was chased and subjected to a fatal arrest that was declared unlawful by the city’s top prosecutor.
Gray suffered a badly broken neck while travelling in a police van in handcuffs and shackles. He later died in hospital, prompting protests and violent unrest across the city.
Investigators from Baltimore police’s internal affairs division, which looks into allegations against the department’s officers, made inquiries over the 29 March incident after learning of Rice’s actions, according to a separate police document obtained by the Guardian.
Spokespeople for the police department on Friday declined to say what, if any, disciplinary action was taken against Rice, or whether his fitness for work was reassessed. They referred a list of detailed questions to the state’s attorney’s office, which has had no involvement in the March incident.
It was previously disclosed that Rice was accused of threatening to kill McAleer and himself during an alleged campaign of harassment between 2012 and 2013, which earned him a temporary restraining order. Rice was twice disciplined in this period by Baltimore chiefs and consigned to paperwork with his police gun and badge revoked, according to police sources.
Prosecutors allege he and his colleagues illegally arrested Gray because a knife discovered in the 25-year-old’s pocket was lawful. Rice and some of the other six officers involved are accused of being culpable for Gray’s death after failing to seatbelt him in the police van or answer his pleas for medical attention. Rice, 41, is charged with manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office.
According to a report filed on 29 March by Westminster police officer Christopher Obst, Rice arrived at the city’s police headquarters soon after 3.45am that day, demanding that police go to the home of Karyn McAleer, an ex-girlfriend and fellow Baltimore police officer with whom he has a young son, and arrest her husband, Andrew.
Rice claimed Andrew was violating a court-issued peace order to stay away from Karyn and her home. The Guardian understands that the order did not relate to any instances of violence.
Rice, who was placed under a temporary restraining order in 2013 after being accused in court filings of threatening to kill Andrew during a series of aggressive encounters, claimed he had spotted Andrew’s car in Karyn’s driveway after “driving by”.
Despite Obst assuring him that officers would go to the house to check on his young son’s welfare, Rice “was not satisfied”, the police report said, and instead repeatedly said Andrew McAleer must be arrested immediately.
“Heads will roll if something happens to her or the children, if you do not go arrest him,” Rice said, according to Obst. Rice added that he was a “lieutenant in the Baltimore police department” and McAleer “would be locked up instantly” if they followed his instructions, the police officer wrote.
Police who visited Karyn McAleer’s home found her mother and sister babysitting her children, who were sleeping. The women told police Andrew was not at the house and had not been for some time, and merely left his car parked at the property. But Rice refused to believe he was not there, according to Obst, insisting incorrectly “he must have ran out the back door”.
Police told Rice to stay out of a court order that did involve him. At the police station, he declined to give identifying information, tried to snatch the court order on the McAleers from the officer’s hands, and tried to leave, declaring his visit a waste of time.
When asked to give his cellphone number, Rice gave a version with one digit altered, according to the officer. Obst wrote that when he found Rice’s true number on a police system and reached him, the Baltimore lieutenant asked “how did you get this number” and “did not admit to giving me a fictitious number”.
In a separate report, obtained by the Guardian from a police source, Westminster police sergeant Nicole Ensor said she reported the Rice incident to the shift supervisor at the Baltimore police department. Ensor wrote that she was then contacted by a sergeant Blue from Baltimore internal affairs, and subsequently faxed her account to the division.
Rice’s history raises concerns about his suitability for frontline work, according to Neill Franklin, who served as a lieutenant colonel in the Baltimore police force until 2004, and commanded the department’s education and training services.
“He is in a position of authority, not just in the community, but over the top of other police officers, giving directions and guidance. Obviously he’s the one in charge, on the scene where Freddie Gray is arrested so the other officers are definitely going to take his advice and his direction and orders,” Franklin said.
Franklin said the prior incidents uncovered by the Guardian indicated “some psychological instability”.
He said: “The questions that need to be posed to the police department is what has been done regarding the evaluation of Lieutenant Rice that leads you to believe that he is stable? Stable enough to be a police officer and stable enough to be a manager within the police department working in patrol.”
Professor Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, branded the revelations “concerning” and “appalling”.
Walker said more serious action should have been taken against Rice in 2013.
“Threatening to kill somebody is a crime and he should have been referred for prosecution and immediately suspended and probably terminated,” Walker said.
Walker argued that the incident in March 2015 could also be viewed as a crime under federal law, which prohibits any law enforcement officials from deliberately depriving a citizen of their civil rights.
“This is all appalling,” said Walker. “It doesn’t really surprise me because I think there has just been a pattern going back years in baltimore of simply not disciplining officers for misconduct. This is worse than I ever imagined.”
Attorneys for Rice did not respond to requests for comment about his behaviour. Karen McAleer declined to comment. Andrew McAleer did not respond to messages seeking comment.