CHICAGO – A Park Forest police officer was charged Wednesday in the death of a 95-year-old World War II veteran who was shot repeatedly with a bean-bag gun as officers attempted to take him into custody last year at an assisted living facility.
Craig Taylor, 43, was charged with a felony count of reckless conduct in the death of John Wrana. Taylor was released on his own recognizance Monday after a brief hearing.
According to a court document filed by the Cook County prosecutors, Taylor and other officers were dispatched July 26, 2013, to the facility where Wrana lived after a staff member reported Wrana was threatening other residents and was combative with emergency workers attempting to take him to the hospital.
When police arrived, they were told Wrana had struck the emergency worker with his cane. When officers entered Wrana's room they saw him holding a long metal object that appeared to be a knife or machete, but was actually a shoe horn.
A short time later, Wrana grabbed a knife, according to prosecutors, and threatened to throw the knife at them and then "cut" them, refusing their orders to drop the knife.
One officer fired a Taser at Wrana, but the prongs of the weapon did not strike Wrana and when Wrana, still holding the knife, moved toward the officers, prosecutors contend that Taylor fired once with the bean-bag gun, paused and fired four more times. The Cook County medical examiner's office said Wrana died of internal bleeding and blunt force trauma and ruled his death a homicide.
In the court document, prosecutors criticized the officers for even entering the room the second time because Wrana was alone and "posed no threat to others," and said officers "ignored" other options, including leaving the room and trying to "calm him down through the closed door."
All the shots, according to prosecutors, were fired from no more than 8 feet away, far closer than what prosecutors said the "optimum distance" of 15 to 60 feet that are spelled out in training standards. Taylor, prosecutors said in the document, failed to consider, as he was trained to, what effects firing the bean bags at close range at a 95-year-old man might have.
In a statement, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, while acknowledging the difficult job that police officers have, said that in light of the "other viable options to resolve this matter and the number of shots fired at this senior citizen at close range in rapid succession, we believe this officer's conduct to be reckless."
Taylor's attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.
Nicholas Grapsas, an attorney representing Wrana's family, said no decision has been made about whether to file a lawsuit, but suggested the family has a strong case against Taylor and the other officers involved.
"I don't understand how anybody could say they couldn't have done anything they considered less lethal to a man 11 days shy of his 96th birthday sitting in his nursing home room," he said.
Park Forest police, who have said the officers acted as they did because they had no choice, did not immediately return a call for comment.