Cop who shot beanbags at WWII vet John Wrana says he was ‘in fear for my life’

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Park Forest Police Officer Craig Taylor was just following orders.

That’s what the 11-year department veteran testified on Thursday, taking the stand in his own reckless conduct trial at the Markham courthouse.

Taylor is accused of using “unjustified” and “unreasonable” force when he fired a shotgun loaded with beanbag rounds at 95-year-old World War II vet John Wrana, who died hours later from his injuries on July 27, 2013. Police were called to the Victor Centre of Park Forest, an assisted living center, after an increasingly agitated Wrana refused to go voluntarily to a hospital to get checked for a possible urinary tract infection.

Before heading to the Victory Centre, where the vet was waving a knife and making threats, Taylor said his commanding officer told him to bring the “less lethal” shotgun.

When a plan was later devised to subdue Wrana, who barricaded himself in his room, it was the commanding officer who instructed Taylor to wield the shotgun, the officer said.

The plan: If Wrana refused to drop his knife, an officer would crack the door open and fire a Taser into Wrana’s room. If that didn’t work, it was Taylor’s turn to persuade the vet.

The Taser “malfunctioned,” and soon Taylor found himself facing the irate Wrana, who was across the room, holding the knife above his head and shouting, “Don’t come in my room or I will kill you!” Taylor testified.

Wrana refused to drop the knife and took steps toward him, so Taylor said he fired.

The muscular officer, who testified that he likes to lift weights and work out, said he was “afraid” and “in fear for my life.”

“I felt like I had to do something to stop him,” said Taylor, who fired five beanbags at the vet and eventually knocked the knife out of his hand with the fifth shot.

The atmosphere crackled inside and outside the courtroom Thursday. One of Wrana’s grandchildren set the tone for the day early, when he blasted defense attorneys for trying to trash the World War II hero’s reputation.

“We are greatly saddened and depressed by the false statements, disparaging our grandfather under the cloak of providing the best defense,” Tom Mangerson said, his hands shaking so hard, he could barely hold the pages of his speech.

Mangerson described the defense claim that Wrana would have survived his injuries had he consented to surgery as “reprehensible” and “disgusting.”

<small><strong>John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, died hours after Park Forest Police Officer Craig Taylor fired a shotgun loaded with beanbag rounds at him on July 27, 2013. | Provided photo</strong></small>

John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, died hours after Park Forest Police Officer Craig Taylor fired a shotgun loaded with beanbag rounds at him on July 27, 2013. | Provided photo

Later in the day, a furious Terry Ekl, Taylor’s lead attorney, stood before reporters, accusing Wrana’s family of abandoning the person they claimed to adore. Ekl said there’s no record of Wrana’s relatives ever visiting him while he was at the Victory Centre.

“I don’t want to hear anything more about the family members, how upset they are over the characterization of the facts in this case,” Ekl said.

Inside the courtroom, a nurse who was with Wrana at the Victory Centre in the hours before he died was reduced to tears as she testified about a man who used to talk about how much he loved his late wife.

Brandy Bonner testified that she became increasingly concerned about Wrana’s safety and those of the other residents as the day progressed on July 26.

“He was really, really off,” Bonner said of Wrana’s mental state.

Later, assistant state’s attorney Regina Mescall asked Bonner to explain why she no longer works at Victory Centre.

“It was hard to be in that building because of everything that happened,” Bonner said, in tears. “I would go down the road and see a police officer, and be scared.”

A little while later, Ekl erupted, loudly accusing Mescall of mistreating Bonner on the stand.

“Your conduct was reprehensible!” he shouted.

“People can say that about you, Mr. Ekl,” Mescall shot back.

Judge Luciano Panici called both attorneys to the bench and said, “No more fighting.”

Just before Taylor took the stand, Illinois State Police Special Agent Michael Minniear testified that he’d been called to investigate Wrana’s death and concluded Taylor did not act unreasonably or with excessive force.

Closing arguments in the case are expected Friday.

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