A Flip By Any Other Name

The public was reliably informed that it was sound and understood practice when being pulled over by police to acknowledge acquiescence to the stop while proceeding to a safe, well-lit location for everyone’s safety. What could possibly go wrong?

Nicole Harper, pregnant with her daughter, was driving her SUV home on a Arkansas freeway in July 2020 when Arkansas State trooper Rodney Dunn decided to stop her for allegedly driving 84 in a 70 mph zone. He turned on his lights in an attempt to make her pull over.

Following what she understood to be standard safe procedure in this situation, Harper moved into the right lane, slowed down, turned on her hazards to indicate to the officer that she understood what was going on, and was seeking a safe shoulder or exit to pull over.

Granted, 84 in a 70 might be a bit over the speed limit, which would give rise to cause for a stop if an officer was bored, was behind on his quota or saw something of color to make him believe a pretext stop was in order. And Harper did what any law-abiding person should do.

Corporal Dunn was having none of that. Using an insanely dangerous strategy that police in Arkansas are using more and more—144 times last year, double the number of times the year before—he slammed into her SUV causing her to hit the concrete median, flipping her SUV. The practice, called the “precision immobilization technique” (PIT), killed at least three people in 2020.

Neither Congress (USA Patriot Act?) nor social justice warriors (birthing persons?) have anything on cops when it comes to inventing cool euphemisms for banal violence. Punch a suspect in the face and the cop didn’t beat the crap out of him. He employed a “stun technique.” Crash into a car and the cops didn’t flip somebody for the heinous offense of driving at a speed in excess of the posted speed limit, but performed a “precision immobilization technique.” The flipped car feels much better knowing that, and the dead person inside, well, that happens sometimes.

“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.”

As it turns out, Harper’s conduct was exactly what any good driver should have done.

She was very literally doing the textbook right thing, according to Arkansas driver’s license test guides.

Harper is now, understandably, suing Dunn, his supervisor Sgt. Alan Johnson, and Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant, claiming Dunn’s potentially murderous maneuver was an excessive and negligent use of force given the circumstances. A wider shoulder and an exit were less than a mile away when Dunn attacked her.

What possible circumstances could justify the use of such a maneuver on someone who was being pulled over for speeding? That Harper had slowed down, put on her flashers, to alert Dunne that she recognized that he was there and was complying with the stop aside, using a patrol car as a deadly weapon is nuts.

separate report from KARK detailed a November 2019 PIT stop in which a suspect who had his high beams on inappropriately and did not stop fast enough for the officer but rather drove away at very high speeds was slammed into, sending the car into a tree and killing 22-year-old Brian Brooks.

One might think that it’s too obvious to need explanation as to why speeding or high beams, combined with not pulling over immediately, is insufficient reason to engage in conduct that at best wrecks a car and at worst kills people. But it’s not.

A comment from a state Senator given to KARK alas shows a common politician attitude toward second-guessing police actions, no matter how reckless, dangerous, or absurd: “‘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.'”

Was Harper fleeing? Perhaps Dunne thought so, although it seems far more likely that he was annoyed at her for not respecting his authority by doing what he decided she ought to do rather than Harper doing what law, best practice and sanity would have her do. But to the extent that police use of deadly force without justification finds comfort in elected officials, even absurd conduct like this “precision immobilization technique” will find support.

While people properly applaud laws that prohibit potentially deadly “techniques” like chokeholds, they fail to realize that the range of ways with which cops can maim, damage and kill isn’t limited to the handful they’re aware of. The problem is the needless use of force, and even if one survives the encounter, that doesn’t mean “no harm, no foul.”

11 thoughts on “A Flip By Any Other Name

  1. Pedantic Grammar Police

    Before I decide how outraged I am, I need to know the races and sexual orientations of the people who were killed.

  2. Guitardave

    WTF is the matter with these idiots?

    (a personal anecdote on the subject, if I may?…or do what you must)
    Last time I got pulled over, (on my motorcycle), was on a moderately busy road with no shoulders. I had just made a left turn at a four-way stop, and suddenly there were disco lights in my mirror.
    I could have easily pulled off the road, but the cop would have been on the road, less safe for him, and causing a traffic snafu. I held up my left hand an made a ‘wait a minute’ type gesture, and slowly proceeded about 300 yards down the road to a wide driveway where we could both be off the road.

    He said I didn’t stop at the sign. I did stop, I just didn’t put a foot down. ( I still have pretty good balance, i rode trials when I was young…one of my tricks was to stop, shut off the bike, flip out the kick starter, fire it back up and take off without putting a foot on the ground.) From his angle he really couldn’t see if i was or was not moving, so I decided not to argue the point. ( I was also going 30mph over the speed limit a bit before the stop sign…but he had no way to prove that from where he was hiding..)
    He could have had me for running a stop sign and a beat inspection sticker…3 points and a few hundred bucks in PA.

    After he told my why he pulled me over, ( I didn’t even ask…imagine that!) he went back to the car, ran my cards, came back and gave me a warning and THANKED ME!!! for getting us both out of the traffic flow.
    He did more to change my old biker attitude about LEOs then he’ll ever know.

    But it’s nice to know Officer Tackelbury could’ve just run me down with no repercussions.

    1. JedD

      Eventually, most cops do learn the deterrence and public relations value of issuing a warning instead of a citation for non-aggravated violations. In my experience, warnings outnumbered tickets 4-to-1. But then you have morons who PIT someone like Ms. Harper.

  3. John Barleycorn

    I am surprised that Arkansas doesnt mandate that an inclusive phamphlet, about the dangers of over-steering into the skid, be included with every pregencey test sold….???

  4. Bryan Burroughs

    There’s no clearly established Constitutional right not to have your car flipped over by a police officer. Case dismissed.

  5. Mike V.

    “Granted, 84 in a 70 might be a bit over the speed limit, which would give rise to cause for a stop if an officer was bored, was behind on his quota or saw something of color to make him believe a pretext stop was in order.” 14mph over will get you a ticket in most jurisdictions in America.

    It has always been my understanding that PIT maneuvers are to be done at low speed precisely because of the risks. At low speed (under 35mph or so), you spin the offender’s vehicle in a circle. At higher speeds, as here, they crash pretty violently. I have a hard time believing their policy allows PITs at Interstate speeds.

    I suspect Arkansas should settle this one.

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