Nicole Harper’s car being followed by an Arkansas police vehicle on the highway and then flipped over. (Screenshot via dashcam video sent to VICE News)
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An Arkansas state trooper gave a pregnant woman just two minutes to pull over on a highway before bumping her car with his vehicle, which sent her veering across multiple lanes before ultimately flipping over.
The trooper, Rodney Dunn, had clocked Nicole Harper allegedly driving 14 mph over the speed limit near Jacksonville one night last July. But Harper didn’t feel safe pulling over right away, so she turned on her emergency flashers and slowed down to find a good spot, according to a lawsuit she filed in a Pulaski County, Arkansas, court last month.
Dunn first trailed her with flashing lights. But eventually he tried to stop her with something else: a controversial maneuver sometimes used to catch dangerous, fleeing suspects called a “PIT,” or precision immobilization technique. Dashcam footage of the incident provided to VICE News by Harper’s attorney shows that the trooper crept up behind her vehicle—at one point driving directly beside her—before he appeared to tap the rear corner of her car and caused her to spin out.
“This is what happens when people don’t stop for us,” Dunn said after Harper’s car had been flipped over, according to the dashcam video.
“You wreck us?” Harper asked.
At least 30 people have been killed during PIT maneuvers nationwide since 2016, and hundreds of others have been injured, according to a Washington Post investigation last August. Eighteen of those deaths came after an officer attempted to stop someone for a minor traffic violation, including speeding.
But at Dunn’s agency, the tactic is increasingly popular, according to KLRT-TV, a Fox affiliate in Little Rock, which also covered Harper’s lawsuit. The news outlet uncovered that Arkansas State Police troopers carried out at least 144 PITs or attempted PITs last year—nearly double the number from the year prior. At least three people, including one passenger, died during PIT maneuvers in 2020, according to KLRT-TV.
In Harper’s case, she was severely injured as a result of the maneuver, according to her lawsuit. She was covered in “hellacious” bruises, Norwood said. And, at two months pregnant, she feared the worst. After rushing to the emergency room, Harper went to bed the evening of the accident convinced that her first child was dead, though an OB-GYN picked up a heartbeat the following day. The child was later born healthy.
But Harper still struggles with anxiety while driving.
“She doesn’t like driving very much anymore, but when she does, she has a fear of being pulled over because she doesn’t want that to ever happen again,” Andrew Norwood, Harper’s attorney, said.
“If done properly, it’s a really good maneuver, and it’s a safe maneuver,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. “But unfortunately we see too many times PITs being done at high speeds, in the wrong environment, and on wrong vehicles.”
In Harper’s case, she seemed to do everything right, making the PIT used against her “a really outrageous example,” Alpert said.
“If you look at the video, there are barriers on both sides of the road with a reduced shoulder,” Norwood told VICE News. “There’s no exit or widening of the narrowed shoulder from the time he starts his lights until the time she’s upside down.”
Norwood noted that even Arkansas’ “Driver’s License Study Guide” recommends that drivers activate their “turn signal or emergency flashers to indicate to the officer that you are seeking a safe place to stop.”
Arkansas State Police did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment.
However, State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant seemingly defended PIT maneuvers in a statement to KLRT-TV. He noted that troopers have seen an increase in drivers both consciously ignoring traffic stops and fleeing, which can threaten the public.
In these situations, Bryant said, officers have several options, including a PIT maneuver, deploying spike strips, executing a “boxing technique,” and terminating the chase. Most of the time, pursuits end without a PIT maneuver being used.
“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,” Bryant said in the statement, according to KLRT-TV.
Harper was charged with “failure to yield to an emergency vehicle” after the trooper, Dunn, hit her car and “placed her life and the life of her unborn child at risk,” according to her lawsuit.
Her complaint names several defendants: Dunn; Alan Johnson, his supervisor; Bryant; and unnamed parties who either came up with the PIT maneuver policy or taught it to Dunn. Harper is also hoping for reforms surrounding PIT maneuvers, Norwood said.