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Arkansas State Police to change PIT maneuver policy following lawsuit settlement

Arkansas State Police are revising their PIT maneuver policy after they reached a settlement with Janice Harper, whose car was flipped in June of 2020.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas State Police and Janice Harper have reached a settlement in a lawsuit filed in June after a state trooper used the PIT maneuver.

Part of the settlement includes clarification on policy when it comes to PIT maneuvers.

After Harper's SUV was flipped in 2020 as a result of a controversial PIT maneuver, her attorney Andrew Nordwood's first move was to seek a change in policy.

"We've reached out to the state police numerous times before we file a lawsuit, trying to amicably do this without this, you know, without the lawsuit," Norwood said.

After getting nowhere and eventually filling the lawsuit against police, Norwood said both the Arkansas Department of Public Safety and Gov. Asa Hutchinson wanted to hear them out.

"They wanted to know [what] we had to say they, you know, [and] we wanted policy change from the beginning [and] they were receptive to that," Norwood said.

Part of the state police's original vehicle pursuit policy states: 

"Except when it is objectively reasonable to protect an officer or a third person from imminent death or serious physical injury, PIT should not be utilized on trucks with hazardous materials, pick-up trucks with passengers, vans, buses occupied with passengers who appear to be victims, or motorcycles."

"So you can do PIT on anybody else at that point, which is a little scary, which is what you know essentially led to Ms. Harper's situation," Norwood said.

In a settlement with State Police, Norwood said his client's car accident led to a change that he originally requested.

Arkansas State Police changed the existing policy, which now states: 

"The PIT maneuver should only be utilized when an ASP officer believes it is objectively reasonable to protect a third person or an officer from imminent death or serious physical injury or when an ASP officer objectively believes other exigent circumstances exist (i.e. using the PIT maneuver to conclude a pursuit subsequent to the deployment of Hollow Spike Strips).

Norwood said he is happy he and his client were able to craft a policy that protects Arkansans.

He added that this policy change will also allow state troopers to still do their job. 

"If one person does not have to go through what Ms. Harper went through that night. The fear and anxiety and then still dealing with the emotional trauma, almost a year and a half later, well worth it," Norwood said. 

He said all criminal charges against his client, Janice Harper, were dropped.

The Arkansas State Police released the following statement:

"The Arkansas State Police has reached a settlement agreement in a civil action filed earlier this year arising out of a July 9, 2020 traffic stop. Corporal Rod Dunn used a precision immobilization technique [PIT] to force Janice Harper’s vehicle to stop."

Approximately two weeks after the use of force incident, an internal complaint was filed by department supervisors. 

The subsequent mandatory internal review of the incident led by Highway Patrol Division Commanders found that Dunn failed to comply with the state police's 'Use of Force Policy' in executing the PIT maneuver.

The internal review process resulted in disciplinary action taken against Dunn, who prior to the incident, had maintained an exemplary record of service.

Dunn is a 27-year-veteran of the department and still continues in his role as a state trooper assigned to the Highway Patrol Division.

The Arkansas State Police periodically initiates revisions to its pursuit policy to ensure it is consistent with applicable case law and existing training related to the PIT maneuver. 

The department has also consistently required its troopers to apply an objectively reasonable standard when using the PIT maneuver and will continue to do so.

From 2016- July of 2021, the Arkansas State Police have witnessed more than a 170% increase in the number of pursuits in central Arkansas. The increase poses a risk to innocent Arkansans, and state troopers remain committed to ensuring the safety of the public by terminating pursuits that troopers reasonably believe places the public at serious risk of physical injury or death.

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