LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KARK) — A pregnant Arkansas woman is suing state police, claiming that a trooper negligently crashed and flipped her vehicle using a maneuver aimed at ending car chases. She says the officer caused her car to flip even after she slowed down and turned on her flashers.
A recent investigation by NEWS10’s sister station in Arkansas exposed how state police are using more PIT maneuvers to end car chases—and how some cases end in deadly wrecks. PIT stands for precision immobilization technique. It involves law enforcement hitting a fleeing car, causing it to spin out and end the pursuit.
The lawsuit filed last week is over a crash that happened in July 2020. According to the lawsuit, Sr. Cpl. Rodney Dunn clocked Janice Harper driving 84 miles per hour in a 70-mile-per-hour zone. Within three minutes of the start of the pursuit, Dunn performed the maneuver, caused Harper’s vehicle to crash into the concrete median and flip.
Police dash camera video from Dunn’s patrol car, released publicly for the first time as part of the lawsuit, shows Harper slowed down, moved to the right lane, and turned on her hazard lights. The lawsuit names Dunn as well as his supervisor, Sgt. Alan Johnson, and Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant.
The suit claims the highway left Harper with “no room to safely pull over” because the shoulder was too small. It goes on to say Dunn “negligently” used a PIT maneuver that put Harper’s life and the life of her unborn child at risk.
According to the lawsuit, Arkansas State Police “failed to train” Dunn on “proper and safe PIT maneuver technique,” failed to “investigate allegations of excessive force,” and “failed to discipline officers for violations of policy related to excessive force.”
Harper is represented by Andrew Norwood, of Denton & Zachary. Norwood said while his client is seeking damages, her ultimate goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen to another driver.
State police declined multiple interview requests to talk about PITs, but the department sent the following lengthy statement from Bryant defending their use:
Over the past five years, Arkansas State Troopers have documented a 52% 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%. 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.
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. t 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.