Officer stands trial in 95-year-old’s beanbag shooting death

MARKHAM, Ill. (AP) — Opening statements began Tuesday in the trial of a suburban Chicago police officer accused of acting recklessly by fatally shooting a 95-year-old World War II veteran with a beanbag gun at close range in an effort to subdue him.

Several uniformed officers turned up at the courthouse in south suburban Markham to show their support for Park Forest police officer Craig Taylor, who is charged with felony reckless conduct in the 2013 killing of John Wrana. The case has fueled debate about police tactics at a time when police departments around the country have come under increased scrutiny over the use of deadly force. Police officials have said Taylor had no choice but to act as he did.

Taylor, 43, was one of several officers who were dispatched to the assisted living facility where Wrana lived on July 26, 2013, after a staff member reported that Wrana had become combative with emergency workers trying to care for him.

According to court documents, when the officers entered his room they saw Wrana holding a long metal object that officers believed was a knife or machete, but was actually a shoe horn. Wrana did pick up a knife and threaten the officers with it, and he refused their orders to drop it.

One of the officers fired a stun gun at Wrana but missed. Then when Wrana, still holding the knife, moved toward him, Taylor fired the beanbag gun at him, then paused before firing four more times, according to prosecutors.

All of the shots were fired from no more than 8 feet away, according to prosecutors, who have said the “optimum distance” of 15 to 60 feet is spelled out in training standards.

Prosecutors said Taylor had other options when he was confronted by an elderly man alone in his room, including leaving and talking to him through the open door. They also said Taylor failed to consider what firing the gun at close range might do to the body of a 95-year old man.

Wrana, who was struck in the abdomen, died from internal bleeding, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office, which ruled his death a homicide.

“We’re here to show the officer that we’re behind you because you did something right,” said Mitchell Davis, the police chief of the nearby suburb of Robbins. Davis worked for several years as a police officer in Park Forest and said he knows Taylor.

“There’s an outcry now for less lethal force in dealing with subjects and he used less lethal force,” Davis said. He said that while the incident had a “tragic outcome,” he believes Taylor acted properly. “I don’t believe it’s a criminal matter.”

Davis also said Wrana’s age shouldn’t matter, as officers are trained to consider anyone carrying a weapon to be a serious threat.

Aside from the criminal case, Wrana’s family is suing Taylor, the other officers involved and the village of Park Forest.

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