An Arkansas woman is suing state police after a trooper flipped over her vehicle during an attempted traffic stop while she was pregnant.
According to Fox16, the incident occurred in July 2020, while Nicole Harper was driving home on I-67/167 outside Jacksonville. The woman was reportedly traveling 84 mph in a 70 mph zone, prompting Sr. Cpl. Rodney Dunn to flash his lights and try to pull Harper over. The lawsuit states the woman had turned on her hazards, slowed down, and began searching for a safe place to park; however, just two minutes after Dunn began pursuing Harper’s SUV, he allegedly used a controversial maneuver that caused the vehicle to hit the concrete median and flip over.
The maneuver is referred to as the Precision Immobilization Technique, which is when an officer deliberately hits a fleeing vehicle, causing it to spin out. Fox16 reports Arkansas authorities used, or attempted to use, PITs on at least 144 drivers in 2020. The controversial move also resulted in at least three deaths last year.
Dash camera video taken from Dunn’s patrol car showed him hitting the SUV from the rear before it crashed and flipped over. The mic on his body cam captured him speaking to Harper following the collision. The trooper asked the woman why she didn’t immediately stop, to which she replied: “Because I didn’t feel it was safe … I thought it would be safe to wait until the exit.”
“No, ma’am. You pull over when law enforcement stops you,” Dunn told Harper, before insisting he didn’t anticipate for her car to flip over.
According to Fox16, Harper is suing Dunn and the Arkansas State Police for negligence and excessive use of force. Her attorney, Andrew Norwood, said Harper’s ultimate goal is to ensure this type of technique is never used on a civilian ever again.
“There was a less dangerous and more safe avenue that could have been taken before flipping her vehicle and making it bounce off a concrete barrier going 60 miles an hour,” Norwood said.
The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the complaint or the use of PITs, but the State Police Department released the following statement from Col. Bill Bryant:
Over the past five years Arkansas State Troopers have documented a 52 percent increase in incidents of drivers making a conscious choice to ignore traffic stops initiated by the troopers. Instead of stopping, the drivers try to flee. In more populated areas of the state, the incidents of fleeing from troopers have risen by more than 80 percent. The fleeing drivers pull away at a high rate of speed, wildly driving, dangerously passing other vehicles, showing no regard for the safety of other motorists, creating an imminent threat to the public.
The Arkansas State Police began using the Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT) over two decades ago. Trooper recruits while attending the department’s academy receive comprehensive initial training in the use of PIT. All incumbent troopers receive recurring annual training in emergency vehicle operations which includes PIT instruction.
There’s a fundamental state law none of us should ever forget. All drivers are required under Arkansas law to safely pull-off the roadway and stop when a police officer activates the patrol vehicle emergency lights and siren. The language of the law is crystal clear. Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle displaying the signal to stop, the driver must pull-over and stop. *(see Arkansas statutes ACA §27-51-901 & §27-49-107)
Should a driver make the decision to ignore the law and flee from police, state troopers are trained to consider their options. Based on the totality of circumstances a state trooper could deploy spike strips to deflate the tires of the vehicle being pursued, execute a boxing technique to contain the pursuit slowing the driver to a stop, execute a PIT maneuver or terminate the pursuit. Most Arkansas State Police pursuits end without a PIT maneuver being utilized.
PIT has proven to be an effective tool to stop drivers who are placing others in harm’s way. It has saved lives among those who choose to obey the law against those who choose to run from police. In every case a state trooper has used a PIT maneuver, the fleeing driver could have chosen to end the pursuit by doing what all law-abiding citizens do every day when a police officer turns-on the blue lights – they pull over and stop.