Chicago-Area Police Officer On Trial For Death Of 95-Year-Old Veteran: ‘I Feared For My Life’

A judge on Friday could decide the fate of a Chicago-area police officer charged in the death of a 95-year-old man who was shot with beanbag cartridges after he allegedly threatened people with a knife, reports Reuters.

Craig Taylor, 44, an officer in the suburb of Park Forest, was charged with reckless conduct causing great bodily harm in the 2013 death of John Wrana Jr., a World War II veteran. Police said Wrana, who was at an assisted living center, had been brandishing a knife. 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, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Francis R. Murphy, a former U.S. Secret Service supervisor, testified for the prosecution. Murphy explained that the team of five officers who responded to a call of a threatening resident at Victory Centre needlessly escalated the situation by confronting Wrana, referring to it as “officer-created jeopardy.” Officers entered his room three times over a short period, he said.

“They didn’t start by giving it some cooling-off time,” Murphy said. “They kept going into his room and agitating him.”

The defense opened with testimony from two of Taylor’s colleagues, who each said they feared for their lives as the 95-year-old Wrana Jr., a World War II veteran, refused to drop the knife. According to trial testimony, at least three of the officers were near six feet tall or taller and weighed in excess of 200 pounds each.

The Chicago Tribune reports Murphy felt the response was excessive, and testified Wednesday that the veteran cop acted recklessly by firing five beanbag rounds from a shotgun at a 95-year-old man, who later died, calling the decision “unreasonable and unnecessary.”

“He was an old man,” Murphy said. “They had five police officers to take down this 5-5, 160-pound person.”

Taylor’s supervisor, Corporal Lloyd Elliot, refuted Murphy’s assumption, and testified that officers would have been justified in opening fire with a handgun after Wrana repeatedly threatened them with a knife with a seven-inch blade.

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“I thought deadly force was authorized, and we were using reasonable force under the circumstances,” he said.

Wrana’s family, who has sued the Park Forest police in federal court, has said Wrana had not been a threat to anyone and was simply refusing to be taken to a hospital. The lawsuit said the center’s staff believed Wrana was suffering from symptoms of a possible urinary tract infection, including a sudden onset of strange behavior.

“This wasn’t some thug out on the street threatening police officers,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Clarissa Palermo. “This was an elderly gentleman alone in his room who just wanted to be left alone.”

[Image via CBS Chicago]