Brooklyn Park police face challenges surrounding crash suspect’s mental health

Brooklyn Park police told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS a Hennepin County judge has ordered 46-year-old Christopher Dewayne Rice to be held in jail for a minimum of 50 days as prosecutors pursue possible criminal charges in the death of 65-year-old Paul Pfeifer.

Police told KSTP they believe Rice intentionally drove his vehicle into Pfeifer while he was attempting to pick up his mail at the end of his driveway last Saturday, and Rice is being held in custody on suspicion of criminal vehicular homicide.

Rice has a history of severe mental illness and could have been released from jail Tuesday at noon, but a judge ordered him held in custody for the next 50 days because he poses a risk to himself and others.

Since 2018, court records show Rice has been committed to three different hospitals for mental health treatment.

In 2020, Rice was charged with felony robbery and assault but was found incompetent to stand trial, and a Hennepin County judge ordered him to receive treatment for his mental health problems at Hennepin County Medical Center through July 14.

But at some point after the judge’s order, Rice was released by HCMC and returned to his home in Brooklyn Center.

Brooklyn Park Deputy Police Chief Mark Bruley told KSTP on June 11 — one day before Pfeifer was killed — police had a conference call with Hennepin County about Rice’s recent erratic and "threatening" behavior in his neighborhood and suggested he might need to be recommitted to HCMC.

Bruley said despite the judge’s order, HCMC released Rice but didn’t notify police, which he said is a growing frustration for law enforcement for cases and other people facing similar mental health challenges like Rice.

"They’re very hostile, and we get that person in custody safely and we get them to the hospital but they get out soon," Bruley said. "A week later, they’re back out doing the same thing or they’re doing self-harm somewhere, and it happens too often and it is an absolute problem."

Bruley said he expects the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to charge Rice on Wednesday.