A woman in Arkansas is suing a State Police trooper who flipped her vehicle while she was trying to find a safe place to pull over. She wants to change how and when the police department applies the PIT maneuver against drivers and fleeing suspects.
The dashcam video released this week is so incredibly frustrating. The woman behind the wheel, Nicole Harper, was driving home on I-67 last year when seasoned veteran of the State Police force Senior Cpl. Rodney Dunn attempted to pull her over for speeding. Fox16 has what happened next:
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.”
We all know police chases are totally worth it, but this one is particularly worth it because Harper was actually doing exactly what she was supposed to do. You can see Harper slow her car down and flip its hazard lights on. There really wasn’t much of a shoulder to speak of for her to pull over on; she’s all the way over and still half-way into the right lane. For her own and the officer’s safety, it makes no sense to stop sticking half way out into a lane. Dunn’s own squad car doesn’t make it completely on to the shoulder on this stretch of highway. Look:
Anyone could see this isn’t a safe place to stop, but Dunn gave Harper all of two minutes before he nudged her car, sending it across all lanes of traffic, into the median and eventually onto its roof. She was less than a mile from the nearest exit with a wide shoulder. Harper’s lawyer is arguing she was attacked with a deadly weapon, all for doing exactly what the Arkansas State Police’s Driver License Study Guide says you are supposed to do. From Fox16 again:
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.”
Fox16 found a startling rise in the Arkansas State Police troopers’ use of PIT maneuvers. Police used PIT on 144 drivers last year, killing three people. That’s double the rate over 2019.
Very few police forces have strict rules about car chases on the books. Most precincts leave whether to chase a suspect or driver or not up to their officers’ discretion. Those that rely on their officers’ best judgement tend to have higher rates of chases, Appeal found. In this instance, a person who was obeying the law could have been killed along with her unborn child, all thanks to a veteran police officer not knowing the law he is meant to enforce, or being unable to resist performing a dangerous and unnecessary maneuver.
Harper is not alone. Each year hundreds of people are hurt or killed during police chases, the equivalent of one a day according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Police chases are terrible for public safety. The nonprofit FairWarning estimates around 20 percent of police chase-related deaths are bystanders. And often, the subjects of those pursuits aren’t even charged with a crime. Take these stats from New Jersey for instance:
The chases are not yielding arrests for violent crimes either. “Two out of three eluders are not charged with a crime that the FBI tracks as violent, like murder, aggravated assault, robbery or rape,” writes Ford. Among those charged with violent crimes, the most common charge was assault on a police officer, “but most of those charges were dismissed later in court.”