Gulfport officer didn’t use lights or siren in crash with boy, 14

The boy suffered minor injures. Now his family is crying foul over the way the officer’s actions and demeanor.
Published February 5
Updated February 5

A Gulfport police officer hit a 14-year-old boy riding a motor bike with his marked patrol cruiser while trying to conduct a traffic stop. The officer did not have his emergency lights or siren activated at the time.

That’s according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigation of the incident, which left Vytrez Rice with minor injuries — and has the boy’s family crying foul.

“I want him off the force,” said Robert Jackson, the boy’s stepfather, of Gulfport Police Department officer Christopher Priest.

According to the Highway Patrol report, Rice was riding a 2015 Monster motorbike westbound on 18th Avenue S near 58th Street S on the afternoon of Jan. 22. When Rice turned north onto the sidewalk that runs parallel to 58th Street S, Priest tried to conduct a traffic stop on Rice. (It is against the law to drive a motor vehicle on a sidewalk in Florida.)

The 14-year-old didn’t stop as Priest drove after him, so the officer accelerated to try to get ahead of the boy. Priest pulled his car into an alley halfway between 18th Avenue S and 17th Avenue S.

It was at that point that “impact occurred between the Gulfport Patrol car and the motor bike,” the Highway Patrol investigation read. The report doesn’t specify exactly how the crash occurred. But it indicates that the front of the cruiser struck the left side of the motor bike.

According to online mapping software, the distance between the intersection where Priest first spotted Rice and the accident scene is just over 175 feet.

Priest, 51, thought that he had turned on his car’s emergency lights before he sped up to catch Rice, the report said. But when the officer got out of his car to check on Rice, he noticed that he had not. Emergency vehicles “en route to meet an existing emergency” should “warn all other vehicular traffic along the emergency route” by using lights or sirens, the report noted.

Rice was driving the bike without a license and without wearing a helmet, potential violations of state law, the report said. Jackson said his stepson was not cited for any violation.

There is no video footage of the accident, the report said. Because Priest never activated his lights or siren, his car’s dashboard camera was not turned on.

According to responding officers, Rice said he was not injured. But Rice said Priest never asked him whether he was injured.

Jackson said he was troubled by the officer’s demeanor after he arrived to the scene with Renada Paul, Rice’s mother.

“There was no sympathy,” Jackson said in an interview. “He had his arms folded with a nasty look on his face.”

Jackson and Paul took the boy to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Jackson said Rice had bruises along the left side of his body and a minor foot injury.

Sgt. Thomas Woodman, a spokesman for the Gulfport Police Department, said Tuesday that the Florida Highway Patrol report would be included in the department’s internal affairs investigation into the incident.

Priest has no disciplinary history within the department, Woodman said.

Times senior researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Kirby Wilson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8793. Follow @kirbywtweets.

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