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.
A 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.”