Target 8: Police change pursuit rules after deadly crash

PORTAGE, Mich. (WOOD) — Six months after a police chase that killed an innocent woman, the Portage Public Safety Department has a new pursuit policy.

Public Safety Director Richard White told Target 8 investigators that his department is no longer chasing motorists for minor offenses, such as traffic violations.

While the brother of victim Crystal Norton said he’s not angry with police, he said the change was “a day late and a dollar short.”

Crystal Norton holds her daughter in a photo provided by family taken a few years ago. (Jan. 11, 2016)
Crystal Norton holds her daughter in a photo provided by family taken a few years ago. (Jan. 11, 2016)

The 33-year-old mother was killed in a crash Jan. 9 after police chased a man who had run a stop sign. She died a day after her daughter’s ninth birthday.

If the policy had been in place at the time, “My sister would probably still be alive right now,” said Charles Norton, of Battle Creek.

“If this new policy can save other people’s lives and doesn’t have other families go through what I went through, then that’s a good thing,” Norton said.

White acknowledged the chase would not have happened under the new policy.

“I think our community just does not support us driving like crazy people to chase somebody down for a tag light or for license plate or some minor traffic violation,” White said. “They say, ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t worth it, you’re putting us at risk,’ and to me, that makes a great deal of sense.”

Calling Off the Chase Stats 650x370

Last year, Portage police were involved in 15 chases. Under the new policy, White said, none of them would have happened.

He did say, however, the chase that killed Norton did not violate city policies at the time.

“I saw nothing in any of that that would indicate that we did anything that was outrageous,” White said.

David Michael Mills, 17, at first fled from Kalamazoo police after running a stop sign in that city. Under Kalamazoo’s pursuit policy, its officer quickly stopped the chase.

“I think Kalamazoo did the right thing on calling off the pursuit,” Norton’s brother said. “I don’t think Portage should have picked it up at all.”

But when Mills sped into Portage, an officer there did pick it up. White said the chase lasted four minutes, with speeds over 80 mph. It ended when Mills crashed into Norton’s driver’s side door as she pulled out from a strip mall onto Oakland Drive.

A Jan. 11, 2016 mug shot of David Michael Mills provided by Kalamazoo County Jail.
A Jan. 11, 2016 mug shot of David Michael Mills provided by Kalamazoo County Jail.

Mills shouldn’t have been driving at all because he’s never had a license. He later told police that’s why he ran.

Norton’s brother said he mostly blames Mills.

“I kind of feel that Portage police is kind of responsible as well in a way, because they’re the ones who picked up the pursuit,” he said.

That chase, the chief said, is part of the reason his department started the new policy in March. The policy, he said, is similar to those at other agencies in Kalamazoo County.

“The minor traffic infraction that at one time we did pursue for, we’re probably not going to be involved in those pursuits anymore,” White said.

Instead, they’ll chase only violent felons and drivers already posing threats to the public — like erratically driving drunks, he said.

Mills last week pleaded guilty to all three charges — fleeing and eluding police causing death, operating on a suspended license causing death and operating while intoxicated causing death. He could face up to 15 years in prison.

Charles Norton said he plans to speak at his sentencing and push for a long prison sentence.

“He had no concern for his own life, let alone the passenger in the car with him, let alone the innocent victim that he smashed into,” Norton said.

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