Park Forest officer charged in bean-bag gun death of 95-year-old veteran
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN Staff Reporter April 2, 2014 10:46AM
John Wrana | Submitted photo
Updated: May 5, 2014 8:18AM
The 95-year-old World War II veteran allegedly threatened his fellow residents at the senior citizen home, then used his cane to whack an EMT who was trying to get him to a hospital facility for a psychiatric evaluation.
And when police were called to Victory Centre of Park Forest, an agitated John Wrana wielded a knife, vowing to cut the officers trying to calm him down.
Still, Cook County prosecutors said Wednesday, Park Forest police officer Craig Taylor was in the wrong when he shot the elderly man with five beanbag rounds on the night of July 26, 2013.
Wrana, who was bleeding internally, refused surgery and died the next morning at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
Taylor, a married father of five, now faces a reckless conduct charge for Wrana’s death in a case Judge Donald Panarase Jr. and others called a “tragedy.”
“This is a tragic incident. There is no question about that. But every tragic incident does not translate to a criminal act,” Taylor’s attorney Terry Ekl said after 43-year-old Taylor was released on his own recognizance Wednesday.
Taylor, who has served as a police officer since 2004, is on administrative leave from the Park Forest department, pending the outcome of the case.
Park Forest officials “totally support him and do not believe he did anything wrong,” Ekl said.
“It was a very difficult day for him,” Ekl said. “He is a good, honorable person.”
Taylor was acting on behalf of his superiors when he opened fire in Wrana’s second-floor room at the assisted-living facility, Ekl said.
“Obviously, he pulled the trigger but he was not there making decisions unilaterally,” the defense attorney said.
Nicholas Grapsas, an attorney who represents Wrana’s family, said his relatives were happy a nearly yearlong investigation led to Taylor’s arrest and suggested the officer should have been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Within seven minutes of arriving, the “officers formulated and executed a plan to forcibly enter Wrana’s room and attempt a violent extrication of the 95-year-old Wrana. Other viable options to de-escalate and resolve the matter safely were ignored, including allowing Wrana to remain alone in his room while the officers attempted to calm him down through the closed door,” Assistant State’s Attorney William Delaney said in court.
After staff at the home opened Wrana’s door for officers, Wrana stood behind a chair with a two-foot-long shoehorn that officers at first mistook for a machete or long knife, Delaney said.
The officers closed the door and called a Park Forest police corporal to the scene.
When the corporal arrived, he opened the door, only to find Wrana waving a large knife, Delaney said.
The corporal closed the door and then called a commander to the home.
The commander, who arrived with a ballistic shield, tried to talk to Wrana through the closed door but Wrana allegedly warned, “Don’t come in or I’ll throw the knife at you.”
When officers opened the door, the commander ordered Wrana to drop his knife but he refused, Delaney said.
The commander tried to Taser Wrana but was unable to, Delaney said.
Soon, Taylor — just six to eight feet away from Wrana — shot one beanbag, Delaney said. He then shot four more, causing Wrana to bend over.
Based on the training Taylor received, the optimum firing distance for that weapon was a minimum of 15 feet, Delaney said.
Taylor also should have considered Wrana’s age before shooting, Delaney said.
“Even after the missed Taser attempt, the officers still could have safely retreated from his room before resorting to violence, and the defendant himself chose to open fire on Wrana, failing to consider the full effect five beanbag rounds fired in quick succession, at close range, would have upon a 95-year-old man,” Delaney said.
Wrana, alert and complaining about stomach pains, was restrained and taken to St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights.
Because there was no operable CT scanner at St. James, he was subsequently taken to Christ, where he died from a laceration to the lining of his abdomen caused by the blunt force trauma from being shot by the beanbags, Delaney said.
The family is waiting for the verdict of Taylor’s criminal trial but will “most likely” file a civil lawsuit, said Grapsas.
“We’re going wherever the evidence takes us, and we got some more evidence today,” Grapsas said.
In a statement released Wednesday, the village backed Taylor and said he has their “full support.”
“We believe that the facts of this case do not justify any criminal charges being filed against Officer Taylor,” the statement reads. “The Village anticipates no further comment on this matter until all of the evidence is presented at trial.”
Contributing: Nick Swedberg