LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Arkansas State Police admit troopers are using PIT maneuvers to end car chases more often, but records obtained by Working 4 You show training isn’t happening at the same pace.
PIT stands for Precision Immobilization Technique. The maneuver is used to intentionally hit and spin out drivers. It works by turning a patrol car into the back quarter of the fleeing car, forcing a chase to end.
In April, Working 4 You uncovered how in the past four years, ASP troopers attempted or used PIT maneuvers at least 306 times. Almost half of those cases happened last year.
While the use of the technique has increased, ASP training records show training isn’t happening as frequently.
State police use Stuttgart Municipal Airport as a test track. ASP would not answer questions from Working 4 You regarding how many hours recruits train for and how many hours troopers go through for yearly training.
At this point, ASP won’t discuss what goes on during those sessions.
For weeks, Working 4 You called ASP requesting more information about training and an interview. All of those requests were turned down.
Eventually, a spokesman emailed an explanation saying, “while there is a pending lawsuit relating to the use of PIT, Arkansas State Police personnel cannot, at this time, accommodate your request for an interview.”
Last month, coverage by Working 4 You made international headlines, exposing a pregnant woman’s lawsuit against the ASP after a trooper used a PIT on her car, causing it to flip while she says she was trying to find a safe place to stop.
After a request for all PIT maneuver training material from the past four years, ASP officials provided copies of slideshows used to teach recruits.
Each year included a slide calling PIT maneuvers a “safer way to terminate pursuits.” That is until 2021, when the slide was removed.
The presentation goes on to list seven things to consider before performing a PIT maneuver, including “severity of crime.”
Trooper says pregnant driver could have been fleeing, she says she was looking for safe place to stop
Based on a Working 4 You analysis of the at least 306 cases uncovered over the last four years, almost half started as minor traffic violations, ranging from speeding to improper lane change.
That was the case in July 2020, when Sr. Cpl. Rodney Dunn tried to pull over a driver for speeding on Highway 67/167 just outside Jacksonville.
Within two minutes of turning his blue lights on, Dunn used a PIT maneuver, which caused the SUV to crash into a concrete median and flip.
“Are you the only one in the vehicle?” Dunn can be heard questioning on dash camera video.
“Yes, I’m pregnant,” Nicole Harper, the driver of the SUV, responded.
Working 4 You first talked to Harper last month. She is the driver suing ASP claiming the PIT on her car was performed negligently and amounted to excessive force.
“Why didn’t you stop?” Dunn is heard questioning on dash camera video.
“Because I didn’t feel it was safe,” Harper answered.
“Well, this is where you ended up,” Dunn said.
Harper’s suit points to the dash camera video, saying it shows how she tried to find a safe place to stop on a highway with a reduced shoulder and where she was miles away from the next exit.
“We call it a PIT maneuver when people flee from us or don’t stop for us,” Dunn said after the crash.
“I wasn’t fleeing,” Harper said.
“That’s what happened,” Dunn responded.
“I have the right to get to a public place”
A similar stop happened days before when on a late June night Trooper Tommy Fitzgerald clocked a car speeding along a rural stretch of Highway 1 outside Harrisburg.
His dash camera rolled as the driver slowed below the speed limit. After a mile and a half following the car, Fitzgerald performed a PIT maneuver spinning the car into a ditch.
“I got him at gunpoint,” Fitzgerald can be heard talking saying on the dash camera video. “Show me your hands, walk to the front of your car.”
The driver had just turned 18 years old and explained she was headed to her grandparent’s house.
“Why didn’t you stop? I had my blue lights on,” Fitzgerald is heard saying on the dash camera video.
“I was told I should get to a public space. I just wanted to get into town,” the driver responded.
The stretch of Highway 1 where Fitzgerald tried to stop her is surrounded by farms with no streetlights.
“I was just waiting to get to a public spot in case you weren’t actually a police officer,” the driver can be heard saying on the dash camera video after the crash. “I have the right to get to a public place.”
“You have the right to stop, too,” Fitzgerald replied.
Is ASP training matching up with other recomendations?
Back in the classroom, recruits are taught there’s no limit on speeds at which a PIT maneuver can be performed and that a “reasonable safe speed” is “determined by the officer.”
That doesn’t line up with suggested practices from the Arkansas Association of Chiefs of Police, of which the ASP is a member. It recommends capping PIT maneuver speeds at “45 miles per hour unless deadly force would be justified.”
A Working 4 You analysis found ASP troopers are going much faster when using the technique, with most PIT maneuvers since 2017 happening above 60 mph and some topping 100 mph.
The following conversation was recorded on body mic audio and dash camera video after a PIT maneuver in November 2019.
“How fast were you when you PITed him, roughly?” a supervisor questioned Trp. Kyle Ellison.
“About 120,” Trp. Ellison said.
“OK, it is what it is. We don’t dictate that,” the supervisor responded.
In this case, 22-year-old Brian Brooks was killed after the PIT sent his car airborne into a tree. Brooks is one of at least five people killed during pits in the last 4 years.
Training materials show troopers are taught to, “consider the risk against the reward.” Harper doesn’t believe that happened in her case, questioning if the crash was preventable.
“I felt like I was doing what was safe,” she said. “I was trying to keep us both safe and I felt like he didn’t care at all.”