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Almost 13 Years Later

November 17, 2015

Cop pursuits spark debate
after baby's arm severed in crash

December 06, 2002

LOS ANGELES (AP)—The chase through the normally quiet suburban streets of the San Fernando Valley lasted only two minutes, just a blip compared with some of the hourslong police pursuits that have dominated TV news around the country.

But when Tuesday's pursuit of a man suspected of a stabbing ended with a horrific crash that ripped the arm off a 2-week-old baby, it brought front and center the debate over just how police should handle pursuits across public streets.

Police Chief William Bratton angrily denounced those who put other people's lives at risk by fleeing police, saying they should be severely punished.

"Hang 'em high," Bratton said during an interview Wednesday on public radio station KPCC-FM. At the same time, he complained that police can't just look the other way when suspects run.

"The police are out there to control crime," Bratton said. "The reality is we have people out there breaking the law. We have to enforce the law."(2002 story continues below video.)

Update on Pursuits in Los Angeles Area: November 17, 2015

A lawyer for the parents of little Harley Medellin, whose left arm was severed just above the elbow,said the couple are considering suing the Police Department and others, including the suspect, the Ford Motor Co. and the manufacturer of Harley's car seat.

"They are angry at the tragic events that took place, and of course they are questioning the pursuit policies of the Los Angeles Police Department," said attorney Stephen Mancini.

The family's Ford sport utility vehicle was ripped partly apart when it collided with a car driven by Alejandro Martinez. Harley was strapped into a child safety seat but the crash's impact crushed a rear door jamb against his arm.

Police said Martinez, 26, ran a traffic light at an intersection in Sylmar, a normally quiet, residential area of single-family homes and shopping centers on the northeast edge of the San Fernando Valley.

Martinez, who was suspected of stabbing a man minutes before the crash, was arraigned Thursday on seven felony counts involving both the stabbing and the chase. He pleaded innocent to each charge.

They include assault with a knife, evading police with willful disregard, evading police causing great bodily injury, and driving under the influence with an allegation of causing great injury.

He was jailed in lieu of $180,000 bail and could face as much as 11 years in prison if convicted of all charges.

Even before the crash, the city's civilian Police Commission had been reviewing the department's policy on chases, but Police Commission President Rick Caruso said it appears the officers involved in Tuesday's pursuit did nothing wrong.

"It's definitely in line with existing policy, and it's even in line with the policy we are considering that would be more restrictive," he said.

The tougher policy under consideration would limit pursuits to those involving people suspected of committing serious crimes.

A police spokesman also said it appeared the officers involved acted appropriately.

Although at least two other innocent victims, a 4-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy, were killed during pursuit-related accidents in Southern California this year, Harley's tender age and the shocking nature of his injury quickly grabbed the public's attention.

The baby, who turns 3 weeks old today, is listed in serious condition at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, where he underwent two hours of surgery to close his wound.

Despite his injuries, Harley can expect "to lead a pretty normal life," Dr. James Stein, a pediatric surgeon at Childrens Hospital, said Thursday.

"The good news is that he is alive," Stein said.

Read "Positive Prognosis for Baby," right here.

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