On the night of July 9, 2020, Nicole Harper went to bed crying and thought she was no longer pregnant after a state trooper in Arkansas ̵
After the crash, a doctor in the emergency room told Harper, who was 2 months pregnant at the time, that “not all pregnancies are viable” and that he could not register a heartbeat, her lawyer, Andrew Norwood, told BuzzFeed News Friday.
The next day, however, a doctor discovered a heartbeat, and Harper, who had spent years trying to conceive, is now the mother of a 4-month-old baby girl, Norwood said.
But Harper is suing the state troop for “negligently performing” a “precision immobilization technique” or PIT – a driving maneuver used by law enforcement agencies that can have fatal consequences.
In a civil lawsuit filed last month, Harper claimed that state trooper Rodney K. Dunn’s use of PIT turned her vehicle around and “endangered her life and the lives of her unborn child.”
Harper is seeking compensation after she suffered “bodily injuries, mental anguish, humiliation and embarrassment,” the lawsuit states.
She also fights two criminal charges against her for driving 1 to 15 miles across the border and failing to surrender to an emergency vehicle, her attorney said. The criminal case is scheduled for November.
While the civil lawsuit alleges Harper suffered serious bodily harm, Norwood declined to describe them in detail, saying “the mental damage she suffered is far worse than the physical harm.”
“She is not after the money. She wants the PIT policy to be reconsidered,” Norwood said. “You should not turn anyone’s car for the slightest possible traffic violation.”
Arkansas State Police declined to comment, citing the ongoing trial, but a spokesman said Friday that the agency “continues to instruct and train state troops in comprehensive training vehicle training that includes the approved procedures in the use of PIT.”
Norwood said Harper did not try to escape from the police officer and that she was not a threat to anyone during the prosecution. It is a crime without a victim, said Norwood, who led the officer to use excessive and unreasonable force against her.
That night, Harper was driving home alone on U.S. Highway 67/167 after watching a movie with family members when Dunn initiated a traffic stop toward her to go 84 mph in a 70 mph 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 provided to BuzzFeed News by Norwood.
Harper felt there was not enough room on both shoulders on the highway due to concrete barriers to safely pull 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, dropped her speed to about 60 km / h and waited to pull out at an exit in front, the trial says.
Just over two minutes after the chase, Dunn used a PIT – knocking his vehicle in the back of Harper’s car – to force her to stop. PIT caused her red SUV to turn sharply to the left against the concrete barrier, and seconds later it turned around, leaving Harper hanging upside down in his seat.
While Dunn helped Harper get out of the car, he is heard asking her on the dashcam video, “Why didn’t you stop?”
“Because I did not feel it was safe … I did not feel there was enough space,” Harper is heard to say.
“Well, this is where you ended up,” Dunn replies as Harper struggles to get out of the car.
She is heard telling Dunn, “I’m pregnant!” as Dunn says, “Well, ma’am, you’ll have to retire when we tell you.”
During their conversation, Harper is heard agreeing with Dunn that she was driving too fast, but says she did not think her shoulders were wide enough for her to pull over. Then she tells him that was why she had turned on her hazard lights to indicate that she should stop in front.
“I did not even think it was safe for you to drag me there,” she is heard telling Dunn. “I thought it would be safe to wait until the end.”
Dunn tells her how the police use the PIT maneuver when they think people are fleeing from them.
“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 says.
“When people do not stop for emergency vehicles, we end this right here just before you get further into traffic,” Dunn adds. “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 use PIT maneuvers to end car chases. At least 18 of these deaths were when police tried to stop the cars due to minor traffic violations such as speeding, and at least four people who died were spectators or victims of the crime.
Norwood said Dunn has at no time apologized to Harper for endangering his life and he is not aware of any disciplinary action taken against the officer. The trial also names Dunn’s supervisor, Alan C. Johnson, and Arkansas State Police Director William Bryant as defendants.
Norwood said he and Harper reached out to state police several times to resolve the issue privately and encourage them to reconsider their PIT policy, but said they refused.
Meanwhile, Norwood said Harper is still traumatized by the incident, adding that he did not show her the dashcam footage until three weeks ago.
“I would not make her relive it,” he said.