When Shauna Huey was driving back to her Jefferson County home on April 8, 2006, she heard sirens behind her before she noticed the troopers' flashing lights.
But on State Route 2017 -- a windy, two-lane road with no streetlights or shoulder at the time -- she believed there was nowhere safe to pull over her Jeep Liberty. It was about 2 a.m., and so she applied her brakes, slowing down, and, she thought, showing the troopers behind her she intended to stop.
But, after following her for about half a mile, the trooper driving, Guy Battlestilli, performed a PIT maneuver on her car. The Precision Immobilization Technique, considered to be "deadly force" in the continuum of police pursuits, involves an officer tapping the rear-fender of an escaping motorist, to make the driver lose control of the car.
In this instance, Ms. Huey's car rolled over into an embankment.
She suffered minor injuries and was arrested for driving under the influence and other traffic violations.
Last year, Ms. Huey, 29, now living in Phoenix, filed a federal lawsuit against Trooper Battlestilli, claiming he used excessive force against her.
The state recently settled the claim for $275,000 and the case was dismissed yesterday.
The state police would not comment on the incident or settlement but did say that Trooper Battlestilli is still on active duty in Punxsutawney.
In an interview, Ms. Huey said that after her car crashed, Trooper Battlestilli and another officer with him drew their weapons and ordered her out of the vehicle. First they said she was being stopped for speeding, she said, then they told her she could have been a drug dealer or carrying weapons.
"They had no reasonable basis to suspect or believe that was true," said her attorney Timothy P. O'Brien. "The use of force in this case was inappropriate and excessive."
Further, he said that even though she was ultimately charged with DUI -- and later entered an accelerated rehabilitative disposition program on the counts against her -- that wasn't relevant to the traffic stop.
"Nothing in the operation of Ms. Huey's vehicle exhibited any signs that it was being driven under the influence," Mr. O'Brien said. "That played no part in what they did."
Even if it was a stop for a DUI, in the circumstances of this case, said retired state police Sgt. James Baranowski, a PIT maneuver was inappropriate. Mr. Baranowski is considered an expert in the maneuver.
He called its use against Ms. Huey "crazy."
"You need to be able to justify deadly force," he said. "You need to be able to show the person you're using it against is a threat to others."
Mr. O'Brien said using the PIT maneuver is "a technique akin to firing a service revolver."
The PIT maneuver is only to be used to stop an escaping felon, and then, Mr. Baranowski said, the car must be moving at 35 mph or less to be done safely.
"It's not designed to stop a traffic violation," he said.
Jack Lewis, a state police spokesman, said the agency routinely reviews the use of the PIT maneuver and other intervention steps to make sure they are addressed in ongoing training.
He would not discuss state police procedures regarding its use because he said that could threaten officer safety.
Mr. Baranowski said the maneuver should be used is at the end of the continuum for use of force, following the use of tire spikes, a road block and a rolling road block.
State police policy says that officers are to "discontinue the pursuit if the risk to the safety of members or others is higher than if the suspect is not apprehended," Mr. Baranowski said.
Further, he continued, it's also policy that a trooper receive permission from a supervisor before using the PIT maneuver. It's not clear whether that happened in this situation.
"Ideally, you want to have a cool head making the decision," Mr. Baranowski said. "You have to use good, common sense to use them. When you start doing PIT maneuvers, someone's going to get hurt."
Paula Reed Ward can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.