BALTIMORE – The top Baltimore city police officer suspended following Freddie Gray’s death was hospitalized in April 2012 following concerns about his mental health, according to records from a sheriff’s department and court obtained by The Associated Press.
Worries about Lt. Brian Rice’s stability – originally raised by a fellow Baltimore police officer who is the mother of his child – led deputies to confiscate his guns and contact high-ranking police officials, the report says.
Rice, who initially pursued Gray on a Baltimore street when Gray fled after Rice made eye contact April 12, declared three years ago that he “could not continue to go on like this” and threatened to commit an act that was censored in the public version of a report obtained by the AP from the Carroll County, Maryland, Sheriff’s Office. Rice lived in the county, about 35 miles northwest of Baltimore.
Deputies reported that Rice appeared “normal and soft spoken” and said he had been seeking “sympathy and attention.” But citing “credible information,” the deputies confiscated both his official and personal guns, called his commanding officer and transported Rice to the Carroll Hospital Center. The weapons included his .40-calibre police pistol, a 9 mm handgun, an AK-47-style rifle, a .22-calibre rifle and two shotguns.
It was not immediately clear how long Rice was at the hospital or whether he went on his own accord. Rice declined to speak with the AP or discuss allegations in a subsequent court filing that he had behaved in erratic or threatening ways toward the mother of his child or her then-husband. When the AP visited Rice’s home last week and left a note requesting an interview, Rice called the sheriff’s department to report the visit as trespassing. Karen McAleer, the mother of his son, also declined to speak with the AP.
The events described in the 2012 report provided the basis for one of at least two administrative suspensions for Rice in 2012 and 2013, a person familiar with the police department staff said. This person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential personnel matters.
The incidents described in the sheriff’s report and court records involving Rice’s personal problems portray allegations of concerns about self-control and judgment, as Baltimore police and the Justice Department investigate the injuries that Gray, 25, sustained in police custody. Police have said Gray ran after making eye contact with Rice. After a brief chase, Gray was arrested “without force or incident,” according to a report filled out by one of the officers, though witness video shows officers kneeling around Gray while he screams. After being transported in the back of a police van, Gray was found unable to talk or breathe and died one week later from spinal trauma.
It also was not immediately clear whether or when all of Rice’s guns were returned. The sheriff’s report said the weapons “should be returned back to owner pending determination of the (censored).” But Rice was accused in June 2012 of removing a semi-automatic handgun from the trunk of his personal vehicle and threatening McAleer, according to a complaint filed in 2013. A police report about that June 2012 incident omitted any reference to allegations that Rice brandished a weapon but noted that officers who responded spent hours searching for Rice over concerns for his welfare.
Baltimore police were made aware of worries that Rice might pose a risk to himself or others, according to the April 2012 sheriff’s report. Sheriff’s deputies spoke to a police commander for the city’s western district, where Rice worked, who initially requested that deputies not fax the report with details about their experiences with Rice because he would make arrangements to pick up a copy of the report and Rice’s service weapon. The official, whose name is twice misspelled, appeared to be James Handley, a police major who now heads Baltimore police’s property division.
A police spokesman, Capt. John Kowalczyk, said he could not comment on matters that might involve an officer’s personnel file. Speaking generally of department procedure, Kowalczyk said that the department had overhauled its procedures for dealing with discipline and employees who need help with personal matters since the arrival of Police Commissioner Anthony Batts in September 2012.
“These are tremendous changes to how we hold people accountable,” Kowalczyk said. He credited the changes for what he said were recent declines in complaints about officer misconduct and an increase in the percentage of disciplinary actions sustained by the police department’s trial board.
An attorney representing Rice, Michael Davey, did not respond Thursday to phone calls from AP asking to discuss the sheriff’s report about Rice’s hospitalization or gun seizures. Earlier in the week, he dismissed the significance of Rice also being placed on administrative leave as a result of a complaint in January 2013 by McAleer’s then-husband, Andrew, a former Baltimore firefighter who said Rice threatened him and asked for a court protective order. Those threat claims were initially reported by The Guardian newspaper.
Andrew McAleer, who did not respond to a note left at his last known address in court records, wrote to a judge that Rice had been transported in the earlier incident “to a local hospital for a mental health evaluation.” A judge granted the protective order but allowed it to expire after one week.
“People file peace orders all the time,” Davey said. “The only thing I’d comment on is, any issues similar to this had nothing to do with his ability to perform his duties as a Baltimore police officer.”
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office did not explain why it censored parts of the report it provided to the AP. Maryland law allows law enforcement officials to protect details about a person’s medical or psychological condition in public records.