On the night of July 9, 2020, Nicole Harper went to bed crying because she thought she was no longer pregnant after an Arkansas state police officer – using a police maneuver to end car chases – turned her vehicle over on a freeway, after accusing her of not being run over fast enough during a traffic stop.
In the aftermath of the crash, an ambulance doctor told Harper, who was two months pregnant at the time, that “not all pregnancies are viable” and that he could not detect a heartbeat, her attorney Andrew Norwood told BuzzFeed News on Friday.
However, the next day a doctor diagnosed a heartbeat, and Harper, who had tried for years to get pregnant, is now the mother of a 4-month-old girl, Norwood said.
But Harper is suing the state trooper for “negligently performing” a “precision immobilization technique,” or PIT – a driving maneuver used by law enforcement agencies that can be fatal.
In a civil lawsuit filed last month, Harper alleged that State Trooper Rodney K. Dunn’s use of the PIT turned her vehicle over and “put her life and the life of her unborn child at risk.”
Harper is seeking compensation after suffering “physical injury, emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment,” the lawsuit said.
She is also battling two criminal charges of 1 to 24 mile speeding and failure to observe an ambulance, her lawyer said. The criminal trial is scheduled for November.
While the civil lawsuit alleges that Harper sustained serious bodily harm, Norwood declined to describe her in detail, but said that “the psychological damage she has suffered is much worse than the physical harm”.
“She’s not after the money. She wants the PIT policy to be reevaluated,” said Norwood. “You shouldn’t turn someone’s car over for the slightest possible traffic violation.”
Arkansas state police declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit, but a spokesman said Friday that the agency “continues to instruct and train state soldiers in the approved procedures for the use of emergency vehicles in comprehensive training PIT include “.
Norwood said Harper did not try to escape from the police officer and she was not a threat to anyone during the chase. It is a victimless crime, Norwood said, that caused the police officers to use excessive and unreasonable violence against them.
That night, Harper was driving home alone on US Highway 67/167 after watching a movie with family members when Dunn opened a traffic stop against her for driving 84 mph in a 70 mile zone.
He turned on his lights and siren while chasing Harper, who immediately turned on her hazard lights, slowed down, and pulled into the right lane, according to a dashcam video from Norwood BuzzFeed News.
Harper felt that there wasn’t enough space on either side of the highway due to concrete barriers to safely run over her car, she says in her lawsuit and in a conversation with Dunn immediately after the accident. Instead, she turned on her turn signals, reduced her speed to about 60 mph, and waited to stop at an exit in front of them, the lawsuit said.
Just over two minutes into the chase, Dunn used a PIT – knocking his vehicle in the back of Harper’s car – to force them to stop. The PIT sharply left her red SUV on the concrete barrier, and seconds later it overturned, leaving Harper upside down in her seat.
While Dunn helped Harper get out of the car, he can be heard on the dashcam video asking, “Why didn’t you stop?”
“Because I didn’t feel safe … I didn’t feel like there was enough space,” Harper can be heard saying.
“Well, this is where you landed,” Dunn replies as Harper tries to get out of the car.
She hears Dunn say, “I’m pregnant!” to which Dunn says, “Well ma’am, you must stop when we tell you.”
During their conversation, Harper can be heard agreeing to Dunn that she is driving too fast, but saying that she doesn’t think her shoulders are broad enough to stop her. She then tells him that this is why she switched on her hazard warning lights to indicate that she will be driving ahead.
“I didn’t even think it was safe for me to stop there,” she hears Dunn say. “I thought it would be safe to wait until the exit.”
Dunn then tells her how the police use the PIT maneuver when they believe people are fleeing from them.
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years and if people don’t stop we have no idea what’s going on inside the vehicle,” says Dunn.
“If people don’t stop for emergency vehicles, we’ll end this before you get stuck in traffic,” Dunn added. “That’s why we’re here.”
In 2020, the Washington Post reported that at least 30 people have been killed and hundreds more injured since 2016 when police deployed PIT maneuvers to end car chases. At least 18 of these deaths occurred while police tried to stop cars for minor traffic violations such as speeding, and at least four people who died were bystanders or victims of the crime.
Norwood said that at no point did Dunn apologize to Harper for putting her life in danger, and he is unaware that any disciplinary action has been taken against the officer. The lawsuit also cites Dunn’s manager, Alan C. Johnson, and Arkansas State Police Director William Bryant as defendants.
Norwood said he and Harper turned to state police several times to privately resolve the issue and urge them to review their PIT policy, but said they refused.
Meanwhile, Norwood said Harper was still traumatized by the incident, adding that he only showed her the dashcam footage three weeks ago.
“I didn’t mean to make her see that again,” he said.