On the night of July 9, 2020, Nicole Harper went to bed crying, thinking she was no longer pregnant after an Arkansas state trooper — using a police driving maneuver to end car chases — flipped her vehicle on a highway after he accused her of not pulling over quickly enough during a traffic stop.
After the crash, an emergency room doctor told Harper, who was 2 months pregnant at the time, that "not all pregnancies are viable" and that he could not detect a heartbeat, her lawyer, Andrew Norwood, told BuzzFeed News on Friday.
The next day, however, a doctor detected a heartbeat, and Harper, who had spent years trying to get pregnant, is now the mother of a 4-month-old baby 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 that can have deadly consequences.
In a civil lawsuit filed last month, Harper alleged that state trooper Rodney K. Dunn's use of the PIT flipped her vehicle and "placed her life and the life of her unborn child at risk."
Harper is seeking damages after she suffered "bodily injuries, mental anguish, humiliation, and embarrassment," the lawsuit states.
She is also fighting two criminal charges against her for speeding 1 to 15 miles over the limit and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle, her lawyer said. The criminal trial is scheduled for November.
While the civil lawsuit alleges that Harper suffered severe bodily injuries, Norwood declined to describe them in detail but said "the mental harm she suffered is way worse than the physical harm."
"She's not after the money. She wants the PIT policy reevaluated," Norwood said. "You shouldn't flip someone's car for the smallest traffic violation possible."
The Arkansas State Police declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit, but a spokesperson said Friday that the agency "continues to instruct and train state troopers in comprehensive emergency vehicle operation training, which includes the approved procedures in the use of PIT."
Norwood said Harper was not trying to flee from the police officer and she wasn't a threat to anyone during the pursuit. It's a victimless crime, Norwood said, that led the officer to deploy excessive and unreasonable force against her.
That night, Harper was driving home alone on US Highway 67/167 after watching a movie with family members when Dunn initiated a traffic stop against her for going 84 mph in a 70 mph zone.
He turned on his lights and siren while pursuing Harper, who immediately switched 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 wasn't enough room on either shoulder of the highway due to concrete barriers to safely pull over her car, she states in her lawsuit and in a conversation with Dunn immediately after the accident. Instead, she turned on her blinkers, dropped her speed to approximately 60 mph, and waited to pull over at an exit ahead, the lawsuit states.
A little over two minutes into the pursuit, Dunn used a PIT — tapping his vehicle into the back of Harper's car — to force her to stop. The PIT caused her red SUV to veer sharply to the left toward the concrete barrier, and seconds later it flipped over, leaving Harper hanging upside down in her seat.
While Dunn was helping Harper get out of the car, he is heard asking her on the dashcam video, "Why didn't you stop?"
"Because I didn't feel like it was safe ... I didn't feel like there was enough space," Harper is heard saying.
"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!" to which Dunn says, "Well, ma'am, you've got to pull over when we tell you."
During their conversation, Harper is heard agreeing with Dunn that she was speeding, but says she didn't think the shoulders were wide enough for her to pull over. She then tells him that's why she had turned on her hazard lights to indicate that she was going to stop ahead.
"I didn't even think it was safe for you for me to pull over there," she is heard telling Dunn. "I thought it would be safe to wait until the exit."
Dunn then tells her how police use the PIT maneuver when they believe 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 don't stop for emergency vehicles, we end this right here right now before you get further into congested traffic," Dunn adds. "That's why we’re here."
In 2020, the Washington Post reported that since 2016, at least 30 people have been killed and hundreds more injured when police use PIT maneuvers to end car chases. At least 18 of those deaths were when police tried to stop the 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 has Dunn apologized to Harper for endangering her life, and he is not aware of any disciplinary action taken against the officer. The lawsuit also names Dunn's supervisor, Alan C. Johnson, and director of Arkansas State Police William Bryant as defendants.
Norwood said he and Harper reached out to the state police several times to resolve the issue privately and to urge them to reexamine their PIT policy, but said they refused.
Meanwhile, Norwood said Harper continues to be traumatized by the incident, adding that he didn't show her the dashcam footage until three weeks ago.
"I didn't want to make her relive that," he said.