FOX 16 Investigates: Woman files lawsuit hoping for policy change surrounding PIT maneuvers

Investigates

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Central Arkansas woman wants a policy change after she claims a State Police trooper negligently used a PIT maneuver, causing her car to overturn on the interstate.
PIT stands for Precision Immobilization Technique.

It’s used by Arkansas State Police to intentionally hit and spin out cars during chases.

Several recent FOX 16 Investigates uncovered how troopers are using PIT maneuvers more often, sometimes leading to deadly wrecks.

In July 2020 Nicole Harper was driving home on I-67/167 outside Jacksonville when Senior Cpl. Rodney Dunn clocked her speeding.

Dunn says she fled, Harper clams she was trying to find a safe place to stop on a section of interstate that has a reduced shoulder.

Dash camera video from Dunn’s patrol car showed Harper pulled into the right lane, slowed down, and turned on hazards.

Less than two minutes after turning on his blue lights, Dunn performed a PIT maneuver, which caused Harper’s car to crash into the concrete median and flip.

“In my head I was going to lose the baby,” said Harper, who was pregnant with her daughter at the time of the crash.

Dunn’s body mic recorded him talking with Harper after the crash.

“Why didn’t you stop?” Dunn questioned.

“Because I didn’t feel it was safe,” Harper said.  Dunn responded, “well this is where you ended up.”
Harper went on to say, “I thought it would be safe to wait until the exit.” Dunn said, “no ma’am, you pull over when law enforcement stops you.”

The PIT happened less than a mile from where the next exit and where the interstate shoulder widens.

In May Harper filed a lawsuit against Arkansas State Police, claiming the PIT maneuver was negligent and excessive use of force.

The lawsuit points to the dash camera video, arguing it showed how Harper signaled she wanted to stop.

“I feel like I had heard that’s what you do, you slow down, you put your flashers on and you drive to a safe place,” Harper explained.

Turns out that’s textbook what to do according to State Police’s “Driver License Study Guide.”Under

“What to do When You Are Stopped,” number one says to use, “emergency flashers to indicate to the officer that you are seeking a safe place to stop.”

After the crash, Dunn can be heard saying, “no we don’t anticipate vehicles rolling over nor do we want that to happen.” He went on to say, “all you had to do was slow down and stop.”

Harper responded,  “I did slow down, I turned on my hazards, I thought I was doing the right thing.”

PITs are becoming more common with State Police. Recent FOX 16 Investigates uncovered State Police attempted or used pits on at least 144 drivers last year. That’s almost double compared to the year before. In 2020 at least three people were killed during PITs, one was a passenger.

“What was done to Ms. Harper was deadly force,” said her lawyer Andrew Norwood at Denton & Zachary.

Norwood says the goal is for the lawsuit to change polices, arguing there need to be limits on when troopers are allowed to use PITs.  

“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.

State Police turned down several requests for interviews about what happened in Harper’s case and about PITs in general. State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant sent a statement saying in every case it’s up to the driver to stop.

Some lawmakers on a joint committee that oversees State Police say they want to take a closer look at what’s happening.

“I think it will probably be appropriate that we have a committee hearing to look at this,” said Sen. Bob Ballinger (R-Ozark). “Find out how we’re using, what type of training, what type of limitations we have, and what are the justifications for the increase in usage of it”

Sen. Ballinger said after he watched the story about what happened to Harper, he had questions.

“The facts you reported, it seems like it was highly inappropriate to utilize the PIT maneuver there,” he said.

While he says he doesn’t want to take away any tools from State Police, Sen. Ballinger said he believes there needs to be a conversation about what’s going on.

“At this point I don’t know if State Police is not doing everything correct,” he said. “At the same time we don’t want to kill them for running a red light or for fleeing for that matter if we can avoid doing that.”

Other lawmakers on the committee say police shouldn’t be questioned.

“End of the day when somebody is fleeing I will never question the method police officer uses to stop them,” said Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs). “I don’t care if it’s 60 miles an hour, I don’t care if its 100 miles an hour, I want them stopped as soon as possible.”

For Harper, she says she can’t help but wonder if what happened to her could have ended another way.

“What if I had kids in the car? He wouldn’t have known. Did that matter? What was going through his head? What made him think this was okay?” she questioned.

The Attorney General’s Office is representing State Police. According to a spokeswoman, “due to pending litigation, the Attorney General’s Office is unable to provide a comment at this time.”

COL. BILL BRYANT STATEMENT:

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.

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