Analysis of an Arkansas PIT Maneuver – A Flipped SUV and a Lawsuit
In July of 2020 an Arkansas State Trooper, Senior Cpl. Rodney Dunn, performed a PIT maneuver on the SUV driven by Janice Harper on Highway 67/167 after attempting to initiate a traffic stop for speeding. The PIT maneuver resulted in Harper’s vehicle swerving and rolling onto its roof as it struck the highway median. Dunn performed the PIT maneuver after Harper had slowed her vehicle, pulled into the right lane, and activated her hazard lights while seeking a safe location to pull over. The event occurred at night, with the only immediately available area to pull over being the narrow shoulder on a multi-lane highway with a 70 mile-an-hour speed limit. Dunn had performed the PIT on Harper’s vehicle less than three minutes after initiating the stop at approximately 60 MPH, which constitutes a use of deadly force according to the Vehicle Pursuit and Emergency Vehicle Operation guidelines published by the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, as seen in the snippet below.
Anatomy of the Stop
Officer Dunn initiated the traffic stop somewhere along Highway 67/167, heading roughly South or Southwest towards the city of Jacksonville. I extrapolated the path of the pursuit given the time between initiation of the stop and when the PIT maneuver was employed. The pursuit lasted approximately 3 minutes, and I assumed an average constant speed of 60 MPH, which means Dunn and Harper would have traveled about 3 miles before Dunn used the PIT maneuver to stop Harper’s vehicle. The approximate path traveled in this time can be seen in the Google Maps snippet below, with the rough location where the PIT maneuver occurred marked. The red circle represents the approximate location where Dunn initiated the stop.
Additionally, I have located the same road signs seen in Officer Dunn’s dash cam video, confirming that this is the correct path. See the snippets below. This also helps confirm my rough approximation of the length of the pursuit and the location where the PIT occurred, as Dunn initiated the PIT maneuver just past a specific road sign which I was able to locate.
Harper’s claimed intention in not immediately pulling over on the highway shoulder is that she was seeking a safer place to stop, which I do not find unreasonable. The highway shoulder appears only just wide enough for a typical vehicle, and many lethal accidents occur on highway shoulders, as little more than a quick Google search will affirm. Additionally, no exit was available between the point where the traffic stop was initiated and where Dunn used the PIT maneuver. Again, there was no exit available on that entire stretch of roadway – Harper had yet to reach any available exit and had not passed by any after the stop was initiated. The first available exit appears to have been approximately 1 mile ahead from where Dunn used the PIT maneuver to stop Harper’s vehicle.
To summarize, Officer Dunn initiated the stop approximately 3 miles and 3 minutes before using the PIT maneuver to stop Harper’s SUV, resulting in her vehicle contacting the highway median and rolling onto its roof. At no point during the pursuit was a safer place to stop, such as a more open and well-lit area, available – the first exit would not be available to Harper until approximately 1 additional mile past where the PIT maneuver was used.
The Problems with Dunn’s Actions
Officer Dunn employed the PIT maneuver on a vehicle which had moved into the right lane, slowed, and activated its hazard lights while ostensibly seeking an appropriate location to stop. Additionally, Dunn performed the PIT at approximately 60 MPH, well above the 45 MPH limit before the PIT is considered deadly force as set forth in the aforementioned Arkansas Vehicle Pursuit and Emergency Vehicle Operation guidelines document. And yes, you read that correctly – the PIT maneuver is considered deadly force at speeds in excess of 45 MPH by the Arkansas state police themselves.
Bottom line – Sr. Cpl. Rodney Dunn employed lethal force against a common citizen simply because they did not immediately stop in a dangerous area for nothing more than a relatively minor speeding violation. According to Arkansas laws on speeding, Harper’s violation would most likely have incurred little more than a $500 fine. The situation was instead turned into an event which created significant damage to Harper’s vehicle that was surely in excess of $500 in damages, possible damage to the roadway, risk to other drivers, and above all posed a significant risk to Harper’s life as well as the life of her unborn child. Further, this situation will cost taxpayers money as Harper has (rightfully, in this authors opinion) sued Dunn and several other officers (including Dunn’s supervisor Sgt. Alan Johnson and Arkansas State Police Director Col. Bill Bryant) over the PIT maneuver. All this because Officer Dunn was impatient and decided to nearly end someone’s life over a simple traffic stop.
Dunn’s actions ultimately amount to nothing more than thuggery. The roadway was relatively clear – he could have given Harper the opportunity to find an exit or other safe area before resorting to more extreme measures such as the PIT maneuver. Neither Dunn nor other drivers appeared to be in immediate danger and the highway possesses a concrete median separating opposing traffic. Dunn’s choice to use deadly force over a minor traffic violation is simply inexplicable through any logical analysis.
An Endemic Problem
Harper is not the only victim of Arkansas officer’s questionable use of PIT maneuvers. As reported by Fox16, use of the PIT maneuver by Arkansas officers doubled in 2020 from the previous year. Col. Bryant – one of the officers named as a defendant in Harper’s lawsuit – has attempted to explain away this increase as an increase in the number of fleeing drivers. However, in the statement released by Bryant he cites no evidence for this claimed increase in fleeing drivers, and other high speed PIT maneuvers by Arkansas officers have ended poorly.
According to a Washington Post article on PIT maneuver fatalities, they found no less than 18 fatalities that occurred when a PIT was initiated over otherwise minor traffic violations. While the PIT maneuver is certainly used appropriately in many instances, there are also cases where the PIT maneuver has resulted in the deaths of both drivers and passengers of vehicles being pursued, with the end result of such events occasionally being that departments restrict or even outright ban use of the PIT maneuver, as is the case with the New York State Police.
As some seek reform in policing to prevent further incidents such as this, these efforts will meet resistance – including from individuals such as Bart Hester, a Republican Senator in the Arkansas State Senate. Quoted in the previously mentioned Fox16 article, Bart Hester stated that he will “never question” what method police use to stop a vehicle, and he clearly states that he does not care at what speed the stop occurs. Hester did not appear to qualify his statement. What Hester is doing here is essentially giving approval to the use of deadly force by the police against all drivers, for any reason. This is utter insanity and I can only hope that the citizens of Hester’s district vote him out of office – no public leader should be condoning the use of deadly force by agents of the state over minor traffic violations.
To conclude, I see no logical reason for Officer Dunn having used the PIT maneuver against Harper at speeds which constitute deadly force under Arkansas own police pursuit guidelines, and it appears this is another area of policing in need of scrutiny and reform - reform that will not come while pro-thuggery, anti-citizen, police state advocates such as Bart Hester still hold public office.