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.