Park Forest officer charged in 95-year-old veteran’s death
By Rummana Hussain Sun-Times Media 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 Park Forest senior citizen home, then used his cane to whack an emergency medical technician who was trying to get him to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
And when police were called to Victory Centre, an agitated John Wrana wielded a knife, vowing to stab the officers trying to calm him down.
Cook County prosecutors on Wednesday charged Officer Craig Taylor with felony reckless conduct for shooting the elderly man with five beanbag rounds from a shotgun on the night of July 26, 2013. Wrana, who was bleeding internally, died the next morning at Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.
Taylor, 43, a married father of five, was released without having to post a cash bond in the case, which Circuit Court Judge Donald Panarase Jr. and others called tragic.
“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.
Ekl said his client, a Park Forest officer since 2004, was “devastated” by his arrest, as were his fellow officers. He said Taylor is on paid administrative leave from the police department, pending the outcome of the case.
“It was a very difficult day for him. He is a good, honorable person,” Ekl said, adding that village officials “totally support him and do not believe he did anything wrong.”
A statement released Wednesday by the village says “the facts of this case do not justify any criminal charges being filed against Officer Taylor. The village anticipates no further comment on this matter until all of the evidence is presented at trial.”
Taylor was acting on behalf of his superiors when he opened fire in Wrana’s second-floor room at the assisted-living center, Ekl said.
“Obviously, he pulled the trigger, but he was not there making decisions unilaterally,” the attorney said.
Attorney Nicholas Grapsas, who’s representing Wrana’s 75-year-old stepdaughter, Sharon Mangerson, said family members were happy that a nearly year-long investigation led to Taylor’s arrest, and he suggested that 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. ... 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.
He said the officers closed the door and called a Park Forest police corporal to the scene. When the corporal arrived, he opened the door to find Wrana waving a large knife, Delaney said, and the corporal closed the door and called a commander to the home.
Delaney said 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 police again opened the door, the commander ordered Wrana to drop his knife but he refused, and the commander tried to subdue Wrana with a stun gun but failed, Delaney said.
Taylor, who was about seven feet from Wrana, then shot a beanbag from a shotgun at Wrana and then shot four more, causing Wrana to bend over, according to the prosecutor.
Based on the training Taylor received, the optimum firing distance for that weapon was a minimum of 15 feet, Delaney said, and Taylor also should have considered Wrana’s age before shooting.
“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 transferred to Christ, where he died from a laceration to the lining of his abdomen caused by being shot, Delaney said.
The Park Forest Police Department’s policy manual says shooting the beanbag shotgun should be considered as a “use of force greater than the use of the police baton but lesser than deadly force.” Use of the shotgun should take into consideration the target’s “physical factors,” including age, size, relative strength, injury/exhaustion level and the number of officers versus the subject, according to the manual.
It states that officers must complete an approved training course to use the gun and that a watch commander shall authorize the use of a bean bag gun before it is used.
Deputy Police Chief Mike McNamara said after the shooting that Taylor had fired the gun in training, but it had not been used on a call in more than 10 years.
As for a wrongful death lawsuit being filed against Taylor and police, Grapsas said the family will wait for the outcome of the criminal case against Taylor but will “most likely” file suit.
“We’re going wherever the evidence takes us, and we got some more evidence (Wednesday),” he said.
Magnerson, who was not available for comment Wednesday, will hold a news conference once the family decides whether to pursue a lawsuit, Grapsas said.
Contributing: Nick Swedberg