November 30, 2012
When you’re being pulled over for a simple infraction like speeding, you don’t expect police to push your car off the road forcing it to flip, but that’s exactly what happened to a Florida woman last month.
Sandra Silasavage, a 62-year-old disabled woman who suffers from scoliosis, was driving home on State Road 70 when her 2008 Ford Expedition was forced off the road by a St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Deputy using a pursuit tactic known as the PIT maneuver, short for Precision Immobilization Technique, causing her vehicle to flip on its side. The incident, however, received virtually no media attention.
“Her 2008 Ford Expedition was totaled in the wreck, she’s out thousands of dollars and her life has been turned upside down,” the TC Palm wrote earlier this month.
Her crime? Driving 57 MPH, two miles over the posted speed limit.
According to the TC Palm, “Deputy Sean Freeman, a 10-year Sheriff’s Office veteran, noted in his report Silasavage seemed slumped over the wheel and she did not slow down from her “consistent 57 mph” when he turned on his blue lights. So he initiated a maneuver that’s called Precision Immobilization Technique, or P.I.T., an aggressive technique used to stop fleeing vehicles by tapping their rear bumper and spinning them off the road.”
Silasavage was subsequently charged with fleeing and possession of a controlled substance after police found four Oxycodone pills she says were given to her by a friend but never took.
“Silasavage said she did not see Freeman’s lights and heard his siren only a few seconds before her vehicle was forced off the road. It wasn’t until hours later at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center that she realized what had happened,” reported the TC Palm.
The pursuit terminating method is only supposed to be used when the suspect is putting public lives in danger, at least that’s what her attorney, Josh Deckard, himself a 25 year police force veteran, is arguing.
“There were other measures that this officer could have taken. This lady was driving two miles over the speed limit, apparently at a constant speed. I don’t believe this would give any indication that she was attempting to flee the police officer,” Deckard told WPTV.com.
“It’s simply a technique, that, when it is used, in those agencies where the use of the P.I.T. maneuvers are authorized, it is used in extreme cases,” he stated. “The P.I.T. maneuver should only be used in cases where someone’s safety is paramount, when you have someone driving recklessly on the highway, willfully causing danger to other motorists. It would seem in this particular case, the maneuver was unwarranted, and it was a dangerous move for an officer to use in this situation.”
“Why is this not called deadly force when it’s used by a law enforcement officer?” he asked.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s pursuit policy states the decision to pursue or not is ultimately up to the officer and his consideration of a number of contributing factors, including consideration of “The seriousness of the originating offense and its relationship to community safety.”
Most likely, internal affairs will side with the officer if an investigation ever occurs, especially since the officer made sure to mention that he was “afraid for public safety” in his police report. However, dispatch communications obtained by WPTV show the officer never asked for permission to employ the technique, a recommendation put in place to stop this exact thing from happening.
The following regarding the officer’s communication with dispatch was reported by WPTV.com:
“She’s all over the road. Off the line, in and out,” said Freeman.
Deputy Freeman’s siren can clearly be heard in the background audio, and he tells dispatch the car keeps going.
“Is he stopping or no?” asked a male voice. “Not so far,” responded Freeman.
Less than a minute later, the audio becomes unclear, but the deputy either tells dispatch he’s going to roll her, or that her car has rolled.
An editorial published in the TC Palm last year argued that St. Lucie County’s pursuit policy is too vague and gave police too much leeway, notably in regards to the type of offense justifying a chase. ”The policy contains no prohibition against initiating pursuits for minor traffic violations and misdemeanors — an omission that may contribute to St. Lucie County’s reputation as a chase-first, ask-questions-later law enforcement agency.”
Understandably, Silasavage holds police firmly accountable and says the charges against her should be dropped because there’s no way in hell she would contemplate fleeing from police: “He caused an accident to happen. There would have been no accident, as far as I know. I would like for them to drop these charges, because they’re not legitimate. I would never try to run from the police. I was married to one, I know you can’t get away. Do I look that stupid?”
Adding to her inability to flee is Silasavage’s medical condition, a severely bent and twisted spine as a result of years of suffering scoliosis and a horse-riding accident in the 70s that left her back broken, requiring several unsuccessful surgeries. “She walks doubled over and has a morphine pump surgically implanted near her spine to alleviate constant pain,” the TC Palm states.
Yep, sounds like a real dangerous criminal.
Reportedly, inmates at the St. Lucie County jail broke into laughter when she revealed the cause of her incarceration: “It’s ludicrous,” Silasavage said. “Fleeing and eluding? Ridiculous. Just take a look at me. Are you kidding? The inmates at Rock Road all fell about laughing when they heard what I’d been charged with. I was sitting in a wheelchair.”