Treasure Valley traffic stop leads to federal suit

Lee Rice says police battered him on I-84 in 2011 over an alleged lane-change violation.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comOctober 30, 2013 

Lee Arthur Rice II was dragged out of his car, forced face-first onto the pavement, and kneed in the back and hips during a stop on Interstate 84 between Boise and Nampa. Representing himself, he convinced a judge that police had no right to pull him over in the first place.

Rice, 60, now has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Boise, alleging that he suffered permanent injuries when officers used "excessive and unnecessary force" in taking him into custody as he drove his family home to Nampa after spending Christmas Day that year visiting relatives.

Rice is seeking at least $100,000 in damages, along with punitive damages to be determined at trial. The lawsuit names the Idaho State Police and several other police agencies as defendants.

"My pain continues to this day. And I have constant worry whenever I see a cop," said Rice, who filed the suit himself and is looking for an attorney to represent him.

Teresa Baker, spokeswoman for the ISP, said she had not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

Idaho State Police Cpl. Janet Murakami, the trooper who stopped Rice, is also named as a defendant, along with 18 officers from the Boise and Meridian police departments and the Ada County Sheriff's Office who responded to a "Code 3" emergency call from Murakami for assistance.

Rice, accompanied by his wife and two children, left a home in East Boise and was traveling west on I-84 about 3 a.m. when he noticed a vehicle behind him that appeared to have its brights on. The light was so intense, Rice said, he went into the far left lane to get out of the beams' path.

The car that was following remained in the center lane for a distance before moving into the left lane. Rice later signaled and steered back to the center lane, followed by the other vehicle. In court documents, he said he switched lanes to "avoid what was presumed to be some kind of crazy person."

Seconds after Rice moved to the center lane, Murakami turned on her emergency lights and Rice pulled over.

She told Rice that he did not signal for five seconds as required by Idaho law when he made the last lane change. Video taken from a camera in the trooper's car shows the signal lamp in Rice's car flashed for five seconds when he moved into the far left lane and six seconds as he went into the center lane.

Murakami walks to the passenger side of the car and remains there for about a minute before going to the driver's door. No audio was recorded at that point.

According to comments that were captured on audio later, the trooper said Rice refused to hand over his license and registration. Rice disputed that.

Murakami can be heard on the car's radio calling for backup. Less than a minute later, a microphone attached to the trooper's uniform goes on and she can be heard telling Rice that he is under arrest and asking him to get out of his car.

Rice says he will not get out because he didn't do anything wrong, and he asks repeatedly to speak with Murakami's supervisor.

Murakami and at least 12 other officers can be seen on the video as the trooper asks Rice again to exit his vehicle.

"I'm about to bust your window, but I really don't want to do that with your children (in there)," Murakami says.

After Rice unlocks his door, several officers can be seen reaching inside the car and pulling Rice out.

"Get your hands off me," Rice says. "What are you doing?"

Rice was taken behind his car and forced to the ground. Officers can be seen pressing their knees against his back, and one officer points a Taser at him.

"I wasn't kicking or doing anything," Rice said Tuesday. "It wasn't called for."

Rice was arrested and charged with resisting or obstructing officers and failure to purchase a driver's license.

After Rice is taken into custody, Murakami can be heard on the video telling another officer that Rice was weaving. "He was driving 10 miles under the posted speed. I thought he was a drunk," Murakami says.

Rice was never given a field sobriety test.

During that same conversation, Murakami tells an officer that she kept asking Rice to hand over his license, but he refused.

"I really didn't want to take him to jail," she says. "I was pleading with him."

Fourth District Judge Daniel Steckel viewed the video and found that Rice had complied with the spirit of the law, although he didn't think Rice signaled for a full five seconds.

"His signal was less than five seconds, I get that," Steckel said in court, according to a recording of the hearing. "But it seems like a typical, reasonable driving pattern under the circumstances."

In May 2011, Rice was charged with resisting or obstructing officers for failing to exit his car so it could be searched when he was trying to park at the James A. McClure Federal Building in Boise. A federal officer sprayed Rice with pepper spray and took him into custody for failing to comply.

That charge, along with driving without privileges, was later dismissed.

At the time of the May incident, Rice was on supervised release for two federal drug convictions tied to conspiring to distribute drugs such as Ecstasy and LSD at businesses he owned in Boise. His probation period ended in November 2011, according to court records.

Rice said Tuesday he hadn't seen anything that indicated a connection between his drug convictions and his arrests in 2011, or that any of the arresting officers knew his history.

John Sowell: 377-6423,Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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