Carefully Followed Police Policy (Update)

World War II vet, John Wrana, was 95 years old.  There are two things that one can immediately surmise from this detail: first, that people that age do some inexplicable things, and second, that they are physically fragile.  When the people at the home called the police, they no doubt realized these two things.

When the cops came out of the elevator at the Victory Centre assisted living facility with a shotgun, it occurred to the former manager, Lanny Gibson, that he may have made a horrible mistake.

“I think we realized at that point that something bad was about to happen,” said Lanny Gibson, who had just started the job and said he didn’t know the protocols in Illinois for handling uncooperative residents who needed medical treatment.

See, Wrana wasn’t being cooperative when it came to helping himself. It was all about helping Wrana. So they killed him.

Police were called to the retirement home after Wrana resisted efforts by staff and paramedics to take him to the hospital for a urine test and a psychiatric evaluation, striking one paramedic with his cane. By the time the five officers gathered outside his studio apartment, Wrana was holding a knife with a 7-inch blade and threatening to throw it or cut officers.

Of course, Wrana may have had a knife, but he was still 95 years old. What were the chances that keeping a bit of distance would have prevented any possibility of a threat? What were the chances that after ten minutes, Wrana would forget why he had a knife, put it down and go watch TV? After all, he needed a psych eval, which suggests that he had issues, which suggested that he wasn’t going to be as appropriately compliant as the cops might like.

But the guy was 95? He couldn’t catch a cop with a weapon if his life depended on it. And yet, his life did.

Moments later, police Cmdr. Michael Baugh led the way into Wrana’s apartment carrying a ballistic shield and tried to subdue him with a Taser, but it misfired and the prongs missed. Taylor, who had been instructed by Baugh to use the beanbag rounds if the Taser didn’t work, then fired at Wrana until he dropped the knife — five rounds in all.

While not in the mix because of fortuitous failure, the Taser wasn’t a really good idea either. But the body blows from beanbags to a 95-year-old were just such obviously bad judgment as to be stunning.  Yet, Baugh said “do it,” and Police Officer Craig Taylor followed orders.  He was just following orders.

Wrana died from the injuries, and Taylor is being prosecuted for his death.

The charge against Taylor, a police officer since 2004, is a rare criminal prosecution by Cook County authorities against an on-duty police officer.

State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has said that “other viable options” could have been used to subdue Wrana other than the “violent extrication” chosen by Park Forest police. Taylor rapidly fired a series of beanbag shots at close range at the senior citizen.

Taylor’s attorney called this prosecution  “the worst form of Monday morning quarterbacking.”

Craig Taylor carefully followed police policy and the orders of a superior, his lawyer said

“There was nothing reckless about what he did,” said attorney Terry Ekl. “He had to make an instantaneous decision based on an order from his supervisor and his own assumptions.”

It overstates the position to claim Taylor “has to make an instantaneous decision.”  Sure, Wrana wasn’t getting any younger, but then, he wasn’t really a threat.  He was just an old man who suffered from the things that old people suffer from.  No one knows how much longer Wrana would have lived, but it’s pretty clear he didn’t need to die that day.

Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy emphasized the speed with which Taylor and the other officers decided to overpower the elderly man with force, saying “a matter of minutes” passed between their arrival and the firing of the beanbag rounds.

“It was unjustified and unreasonable,” she told Associate Judge Luciano Panici, who will decide Taylor’s fate.

It was, quite clearly, an incredibly bad decision to shoot bean bags at a 95-year-old man, for whom the police were called because he wasn’t cooperating in getting medical care. The irony is astounding.

But the question here is whether Taylor engaged in reckless conduct.  In some ways, the nature of this prosecution seems quite remarkable, as cops are so rarely called to question for their actions under any circumstances.  Why this time isn’t at all clear.

It would appear that Taylor did what his superior ordered him to do, though the Nuremberg defense is frowned upon.  He used a method that, under other circumstances, would have been non-lethal, which beats a choke hold or a magazine unloaded on an unarmed youth.  Then again, non-lethal to a young, or at least younger, man means something different when the target is 95.

Could the police have just waited out Wrana?  Obviously.  Should they?  Clearly.  The fact that they didn’t, that Baugh ordered Taylor to fire at Wrana, that Taylor did as he was told, that he kept firing, five bean bags in all, until Wrana dropped the knife, was about as bad a tactic as could possibly have been used.

While Wrana held a knife, the First Rule of Policing argument falls flat, as there is no credible claim that he was a serious threat to the police.  There is the view that his failure to comply immediately compelled some sort of immediate response, as police aficionados like to explain that cops just can’t let people get away with not obeying them or anarchy will result.

And yet, Wrana wasn’t the sort of “perp” usually presented, the guy who was somehow tainted in the first place so that his life wasn’t really one that concerns others.  His crime was being old, maybe a bit demented, and too slow to obey for the cops’ tastes.

The question shouldn’t be whether Taylor was reckless, but why his superior, Cmdr. Michael Baugh, isn’t sitting in the chair next to him for ordering Taylor to shoot.  The resort to force without cause to subdue Wrana is inexplicable and unjustifiable.  There was no reason whatsoever for the police to shoot bean bags at a 95-year-old man.  There was no reason for John Wrana to die.

Update:  In Seattle, in the meantime, police were called to deal with an agitated man who attacked them. Rather than Taser or bean bag rounds, they used . . . cup of noodles.

When officers came and asked the man if he needed medical attention, he tried swinging and kicking at officers, missing badly.  As medics arrived to check on the man, he tried to go after officers and bite them.  

Officers got the man into handcuffs to restrain him, and then medics determined he was suffering from a severe case of low blood sugar, Seattle police said.

Officers uncuffed the man and put him into a chair and medics were able to get an IV into him, which immediately began to help calm him down. The man was then confused why police officers were there and couldn’t remember what just happened. 

The man was given a bowl of noodles to help regain equilibrium and officers went on their way.

A story about cops not hurting a guy and everyone going home for dinner. It’s like a miracle.

30 thoughts on “Carefully Followed Police Policy (Update)

  1. rich

    This case really did make me furious. What do this cop’s colleagues think of him? When I was growing up, anybody we knew that assaulted a woman or an old person would have been looked at with total contempt. The frightening thing to me is the thought that this guy goes back to the station locker room to be greeted by high fives all round. Does police training now focus on removing simple human decency from trainees or do they mostly focus on hiring psychopaths? I’m glad John Kass kept hammering at this in his column, otherwise it probably would have just been forgotten.

    1. Harry

      Maybe the supervisor wasn’t charged because the State’s Attorney didn’t actually want any police convicted of wrongdoing in this case. The supervisor that gave the order to fire isn’t charged and the street cop that did fire is acquitted as he was only following orders. Presto-changeo they all go free. Obviously a bit of an inconvenience and risk for the officer facing the charges but this case has generated a lot of publicity in Chicago and “justice” had to be served.

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        Only following orders that were in line with department policy as he understood them.

        God I love show trials.

  2. Not Jim Ardis

    “He had to make an instantaneous decision based on an order from his supervisor and his own assumptions.”

    I call bullshit. There was a ballistic shield between them and the 95 year old man. They had time to consider other options, like dosing his afternoon pudding cup.

    And much respect for the old man – 5 beanbag rounds before he dropped the knife? I’m obstinate but I’m pretty sure I would have dropped it before round three.

    Also, show of hands: how many here think the 5 rounds was only 5 rounds because that’s all the shotgun had?

    1. Michael Stuart

      Great point, assuming he didn’t have one chambered already the most common Remington and Mossberg pump shotguns only hold five shells.

      Keep in mind too–it’s not a semi-auto. Each shell has to be racked and shot–and one has to recover from the significant recoil of a shotgun. It’s not an AR.

      Which all adds up to TIME–lots of time. Time to think about what he’s doing. Time to observe the outcome of each shot. Time to reconsider the course of action as beanbag rounds–equivalent to the punch of a strong boxer–slam into a 95-year-old man with the unmitigated gall to disobey.

      1. Not Jim Ardis

        I can put 5 rounds through a pump shotgun in a few seconds, and I suspect the cop can do it at least as fast.

  3. Barry Sheridan

    This really is an obscene use of force. What on earth were the police thinking, or perhaps that is it, they no longer think. Frankly I cannot see why the police were called anyway, a little patience from the staff would have won the day as any guy that old is going to tire and fall asleep eventually. There was no need for violence, or at least not on this scale.

    1. SHG Post author

      I think the staff realized that their call to police was a terrible mistake. They thought they would get a little help, not a shotgun. This is another example of how what appears to be a benign decision to call the police ends in pointless tragedy because of the unjustified and mindless rush to use force.

      1. JLS

        I think you’ve pointed out before the ridiculous tendency to make rules and regulations so important that they’re worth killing over. I mean, they could have just left the old guy alone and let him cool off cound’t they? But noon, they have rules that MUST be followed and following the rules is more important than whether or not someone lives or dies.

        I’m sure the staff didn’t think about all that when they called the cops but who calls armed agents of the government over some old guy breaking some rules?

        1. Michael Stuart

          “… but who calls armed agents of the government over some old guy breaking some rules?”
          ‘Murricans do. ‘Cuz Land of the Free.

  4. John Barleycorn

    I would argue from the recesses of dark humor that the prosecution of this officer should be dropped if
    the Bean Bag “discount” for senior citizens leads to the bean bag discount for students too.

    Bullets for everyone else except pregnant women and hysterical bystanders who get the Tazer until such time order is again restored throughout the land.

  5. Jim Majkowski

    I read that officers of numerous local police departments formed a “cordon of honor” to escort Officer Taylor into the courthouse. And I had thought there might still be a limit to shamelessness.

    BTW, am I wrong, or is Heroic Protector of the City and Citizens of Park Forest Officer Taylor charged only with a one year misdemeanor ?

    1. SHG Post author

      And they were there in dress uniforms, because that makes them look extremely official and heroic. It’s my understanding that it’s a misdemeanor.

      1. rich

        This answers my point above. The so-called ‘honor guard’ or whatever all think it’s perfectly OK to fire bean bag rounds at a 95 year old man. That tells you all you need to know really.

    2. morgan sheridan

      Somehow, I don’t think we’ve quite seen just how low they can go, though. The irony is in that so-called honor guard, there’s a good sum of those cops who’re also military service veterans. One day, they will all be in Wrana’s shoes and shut up in some assisted care facility. It isn’t nice nor kind, but I can only hope they live so long.

      As Valentine Michael Smith said, “Waiting will fill.”

  6. bacchys

    Given that the weapons manufacturer of those less lethal beanbag rounds puts the minimum safe distance around five meters, I have a hard time believing that their department policy authorizes using them in that short of space.

    No doubt there was a lack of training and Taylor shouldn’t be the only one in the dock, but he has a responsibility to understand his use of that weapon at that distance was likely to be lethal, especially against a 95 year old man.

  7. Jim Majkowski

    The Seattle police officers did protect and serve. What they did ought be widely publicized and them fulsomely praised, not only for their humanity, but also their bravery.

      1. Jim Majkowski

        I did. And I agree with you that it is. But, if the “culture” is to change, why not also use positive reinforcement?

  8. Anne Krone

    So terrifyingly unnecessary. Especially since all that’s needed for situations like that is a pretty woman in a dress that shows some cleavage. Ninety-five year old men are still men and go on their best behavior when a pretty woman is flirting with them.

  9. JohnC

    The mental care facility where my fiancée does rounds occasionally has signs by every phone warning that if a patient becomes belligerent, the last thing to do is call police.

    I have a twisted fantasy where halfway through the academy, cadets would have to pass a semi Hell-Week: 72 non-stop straight hours working a low-income, understaffed mental health facility with a busted AC (obviously without being able to arrest anyone).

  10. Greg

    Living in the Northern Catskill Mountains, the Big Cats as we like to call them, we share our backyard with all kinds of wild creatures. A few years ago a 500-600 pound black bear took up residence in the woods nearby our cleared half acre. Limpy we called her – never got close enough to check her gender but the limp was due to being hit by a car years earlier. Usually bears come and go, but Limpy stuck around and became a frightening annoyance. You really couldn’t play outside, let the young kids and pets out. So my wife called the local cops. Once it hit the scanner, the town police, the sheriffs office and the state police arrived. Out came the shot guns. Lynn asked, “what are you going to do with those?” “Shoot her”. “Not on my property, I just wanted you to tranquilizer her and move her somewhere in the deep woods”. “Oh, we can’t do that”. “Then leave her alone.” “Ok lady”. The “lady” comment pissed her off even more.
    Limpy moved on a few days later, and we kept seeing her for a few more years. Left to their own devices they find the simplest solutions.

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