If you've ever watched Cops then you're probably familiar with the PIT maneuver, which is short for pursuit intervention technique. Officers who are in pursuit of a driver who is refusing to stop their vehicle will "nudge" the back end of the car in question from the outside. This technique is designed to cause the vehicle to turn sideways and abruptly stop. Sometimes the targeted vehicle will flip over.
This is exactly what happened to Nicole Harper when she was attempting to pull over for a highway traffic stop in Arkansas. Nicole was 2 months pregnant on July 9, 2020, the day her car was struck by an officer's vehicle and caused to crash and turn over on the highway. The state trooper alleged she wasn't pulling over fast enough, necessitating his usage of the PIT maneuver.
Nicole feared that she had lost her baby and an emergency room doctor informed her that "not all pregnancies are viable" at the time and he wasn't able to detect a heartbeat, according to her lawyer Andrew Norwood.
Thankfully, however, the doctor was able to locate a heartbeat for Nicole's baby the following day and she is now a proud mother of a baby girl.
Harper is suing the State Trooper for "negligently performing [a] precision immobilization technique [which] placed her life and the life of her unborn child at risk." She's also pursuing damages for suffering "bodily injuries, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment."
Her lawyer is also fighting two separate criminal charges: speeding 1 to 15 miles over the designated speed limit and failing to yield to an emergency vehicle.
Norwood stated that "the mental harm she suffered is way worse than the physical harm," in the accident. He continued, "She's not after the money. She wants the PIT policy reevaluated. You shouldn't flip someone's car for the smallest traffic violation possible."
A spokesperson for the Arkansas State Police Department stated it "continues to instruct and train state troopers in comprehensive emergency vehicle operation training, which includes the approved procedures in the use of PIT." They declined to comment on Harper's case due to the pending lawsuit between her and the State.
Norwood went on to say that Harper wasn't attempting to flee from the officer but was instead trying to find a safe location to pull over as the section of the highway had a reduced shoulder. In a video uploaded of the incident, Harper can be seen putting her hazard lights on and edging towards the shoulder of the highway, looking for an adequate place for her and the officer to stop.
About two minutes pass between the officer flashing his lights and initiating the PIT maneuver, which Norwood says was a demonstration of excessive force that ultimately put Harper and her baby's life at risk, not to mention the damage incurred to the woman's vehicle as a result of the flip.
The night of the accident, Harper had just finished watching a movie with some of her family when she was driving back home by herself on Highway 67/167. Officer Rodney Dunn then initiates a traffic stop as he alleges Harper was going 84 miles per hour in a 70 miles per hour zone.
BuzzFeed News reports that Harper was cognizant of the concrete barriers on the side of the highway, which Norwood says it supported by the Dashcam video footage from Officer Dunn's vehicle. He also states that she dropped her speed down to 60 MPH, 10 miles below the legal limit after turning on her blinkers, and attempted to pull over at the next exit so she could safely engage with the officer, instead of doing so on a reduced shoulder.
In the video, Officer Dunn could be heard telling Harper, "Why didn't you stop?" To which the woman replies, "Because I didn't feel like it was safe ... I didn't feel like there was enough space."
Officer Dunn responded, "Well this is where you ended up." Harper, who was hanging upside down in her vehicle, "struggle[d]" to get out, according to the outlet.
In the video, she tells the officer, "I'm pregnant!" To which Dunn replies, "Well, ma'am, you've got to pull over when we tell you." In their back-and-forth, Dunn agrees with the officer that she was speeding but again reiterates that she was looking for a safe space to pull over, stating that was why she had initiated her hazard lights.
"I didn't even think it was safe for you for me to pull over there. I thought it would be safe to wait until the exit," Harper says. Dunn went on to say that the PIT maneuver is employed in instances where drivers are suspected of attempting to flee from the scene of a crime/violation.
"I've been doing this for 27 years, and when people don't stop, we have no idea what’s going on inside the vehicle," Dunn said. "When people don't stop for emergency vehicles, we end this right here right now before you get further into congested traffic. That's why we’re here," Dunn explained.
Norwood went on to say that Officer Dunn hadn't apologized to Harper for implementing the PIT maneuver during their encounter that put both her and her child's life at risk. He also stated that, to his knowledge, the Officer wasn't reprimanded for the use of the PIT maneuver. Both Officer Dunn and his supervisor, Alan C. Johnson, are named as defendants in the case.
Norwood also stated that he attempted to settle Harper's dispute with the Arkansas State Police Department along with urging them to re-evaluate their implementations of PIT protocols. According to the Lawyer, their exhortations fell on deaf ears.
Norwood stated that the traffic stop still haunts his client and that he didn't show her footage of the incident until recently. "I didn't want to make her relive that."
Many were aghast at the footage they saw of the PIT maneuver, with tons of people pointing out that the woman was clearly looking for a suitable location to pull over.
Others argued that more than enough time transpired before Officer Dunn made the decision to cause Harper's vehicle to fishtail.
The Arkansas State Driver's License Manual states the following protocol for drivers who are being pulled over: "Pull over to the right side of the road – activate your turn signal or emergency flashers to indicate to the officer that you are seeking a safe place to stop."