John Wrana helped repel the Nazi war machine, but two years ago he took on the men invading his assisted-living apartment with a walking stick, a shoehorn and a knife.
The 95-year-old was no match for the five Park Forest police officers, one of whom fired a shotgun loaded with beanbag cartridges that tore skin from bone and ultimately killed the veteran, Cook County prosecutors said in a Markham courtroom Tuesday.
Craig Taylor, the officer in question, is on trial — accused of felony reckless conduct — in what prosecutors say was an extreme overreaction to an agitated elderly man who had repeatedly refused a hospital trip to check for a possible urinary tract infection.
A large group of local police officers gathered in court in support of Taylor. On the other side of the courtroom, sat Wrana relatives and supporters.
Taylor was one of five officers who burst into Wrana’s apartment at the Victory Centre of Park Forest on July 26, 2013, after staff there and paramedics had failed to gain Wrana’s cooperation.
“They were armed with deadly force to get Mr. Wrana out to take him to the hospital,” Assistant State’s Attorney Lynn McCarthy told Judge Luciano Panici, who will decide the case.
Taylor threw common sense out the window and ignored his training, when he fired five times at close range with shotgun blasts that “blew skin right off Mr. Wrana’s hand,” McCarthy said.
But Taylor’s attorney, Terry Ekl, urged Panici not to be swayed by the prosecution’s suggestion that Wrana was somehow frail.
“I hope I’m like him when I’m 95,” Ekl said.
Ekl accused prosecutors of glossing over the facts that led to Taylor’s actions — Wrana’s increasingly violent and threatening behavior throughout the day on July 26.
“He threatened to slice the throats of the residents and staff,” Ekl said.
Wrana brandished a knife, something prosecutors don’t dispute, and at one point threatened to cut the police officers, Ekl said.
And, Ekl said, Taylor fired only after he and the other officers repeatedly told Wrana to drop the knife.
“There’s nothing about Taylor’s training that is violated in this case,” Ekl said.
Taylor is currently on desk duty, his attorney said after court.
While prosecutors say Wrana died from blunt force trauma, Ekl said he would not have died had he and his family not refused treatment at the hospital after the incident with Forest Park police.
The prosecution’s first witness, Kirsten Kielley, was a business officer manager at Victory Centre, who was working the day of the incident.
Kielley testified she heard Wrana yelling at paramedics and demanded they leave his room.
At one point, Wrana yelled, “You will not touch me, or I will have you killed. The president of the United States is my brother-in-law,” Kielley testified.
Under questioning from prosecutors, Kielley said she personally didn’t feel threatened by Wrana’s behavior.
“I knew that really wasn’t John and (that) I could have run down the hall,” Kielley said.
But during her cross examination, Kielley admitted to Ekl that after paramedics had failed to persuade Wrana to come with them, she had become concerned for the safety of other residents at the facility.
Another employee, Lanny Gibson, said they called police after the paramedics said they couldn’t restrain Wrana.
He became emotional describing the “long black rifle” that one officer brought into the home — the one used to shoot the beanbags.
“We realized at that time something bad was about to happen,” Gibson said.
A Park Forest cop, Mitchell Greer, testified he and the other officers that responded, including a commander, “were afraid [Wrana] was going to become violent.”
Greer said one officer tried to Tase Wrana first, but the electrical weapon malfunctioned.
That’s when Taylor, with the beanbag weapon, stepped in, Greer said.
He said Taylor yelled “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before firing the first of five rounds.
Greer said there were no indications that the found rounds that hit Wrana led to life-threatening injuries.
Prosecutors are expected to continue calling witnesses on Wednesday. The trial is expected to go on the rest of the week.