How Police Use a Dangerous Anti-Terrorism Tactic to End Pursuits
hanquarius Calhoun liked to run from cops. In 2010, he fled from police in Georgia twice and was arrested for it each time. The next year he fled and was arrested again. On May 3, 2013, he did it again. Then, 11 days later, he ran from the cops for the very last time.
On that Tuesday afternoon, Calhoun, who was born and raised in Henry County, Georgia, was caught speeding on I-85, heading north, when a Banks County sheriff’s deputy put on his lights to pull the gray Toyota Corolla over for a traffic stop. Calhoun decided to hit the gas instead of the brakes and make a run for it, as he had so many times in the past. Police officers from Banks County, Franklin County, and eventually the Georgia State Patrol chased him at speeds exceeding 120 mph, with Calhoun and his pursuers weaving around cars on the highway.
At 2:03 p.m., after 14 minutes and 21 miles of pursuit, Trooper Donnie O’Neal Saddler decided that Calhoun had to be stopped to protect the lives of innocent people on the highway. Saddler pulled his car alongside Calhoun’s and performed, at 111 mph, what is called a Precision Immobilization Technique, or PIT maneuver, making contact with the back of Calhoun’s car and causing it to spin clockwise and careen off the side of the highway across the rumble strips and into a small embankment, eventually striking a tree. Calhoun was completely ejected from the car and sustained major injuries, but somehow survived.
If Calhoun had been alone in the car, he might have received little or no prison time, as he had with all his previous arrests for minor crimes. He was driving with a suspended license — and some counterfeit currency was later found in the wreckage — but his most serious offense was running from the police. That Tuesday, however, he had two friends as passengers, 20-year-old Relpheal Morton and 19-year-old Marion Shore. In court, Trooper Saddler described seeing Morton at the scene. “He was still in the back seat,” Saddler said. “He was kind of just looking around … I will never forget it. He just kept looking around.”
Morton, whom I was not able to interview for this article, must have been stunned to be alive and relatively unharmed. The crash was so violent that the car’s roof was ripped completely off. The car looked flattened, like a tank had ridden over it. In one of the police dashcam videos that shows the crash, pieces of the car fly dozens of feet in the air toward the camera. According to a report by the Georgia State Patrol’s Specialized Collision Reconstruction Team, “The damage to the Toyota Corolla was too extensive to describe all the damage.” It seems almost impossible that two people survived.
Marion Shore was not so lucky. She was sitting in the passenger seat, wearing her seatbelt, but the force of the crash was so strong that she was partially ejected from the car while it was flipping and rolling. Shore, the mother of a 3-year-old boy, was trapped halfway inside the car, in an in-between place where death was certain. The car rolled over her several times. The chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia examined Shore’s body and said in court that, as the car was rolling, the forces propelling it “literally bent her body almost in half.”
THE PIT MANEUVER is a modified version of an anti-terrorist driving tactic that has been taught for four decades by BSR, a private training facility in West Virginia that works with U.S. military and law enforcement personnel. According to BSR, the technique was originally developed by Germany’s federal police to give security details the ability to take out a car that was threatening a convoy. In 1985, the maneuver was developed by the Fairfax County, Virginia, police department in order to end pursuits with little danger to police or the general public.
This is how it is supposed to work: An officer pulls alongside a fleeing vehicle so that the officer’s front bumper is just ahead of the other vehicle’s back bumper. The officer matches the fleeing driver’s speed, gently touches — not rams — the other vehicle, and then makes a quick quarter turn of the wheel toward it. The other car then spins out safely to a stop. According to California Highway Patrol instructions, “The key to proper execution of the PIT is finesse. Ideally, the initial contact with the subject vehicle should be so gentle the operator of the subject vehicle is not aware that contact has been made.” It’s a difficult maneuver to learn, even for seasoned police officers, because the training goes up against a lifetime of being told not to touch things with your moving vehicle, especially other cars. Officers are generally trained on closed roadways at speeds between 25 and 40 mph. The PIT is now used by agencies throughout the U.S., and if used correctly at slow speeds and in the right circumstances — little traffic, no bystanders, open road — it can be an effective and predictable method to cut short pursuits and save lives. At high speeds, it becomes a deadly force technique, a way to stop a driver at all costs. As one expert put it, the PIT would only be predictable at high speeds if performed “on an airport runway.”