COMMENTARY BY MICHAEL RICONDA
When John Wrana, a U.S. Air Corps veteran who served in Burma and India during World War II, flew into a fit at his assisted living home in Park Forest, Illinois because he didn’t want to receive surgery at a nearby hospital, one might not think the best course of action to physically subdue the frail old man would be to hit him with a taser and bean bag rounds.
We do not know the exact circumstances after police forced themselves into Wrana’s nursing home room with riot shields, but we do know they ended the situation with precisely those tactics. Wrana was brought to the hospital shortly thereafter, but died from internal bleeding.
Given that police are often faced with unique and unexpected situations, police are right to believe even a man of Wrana’s age could pose a risk. The question, however, is whether Wrana did pose a threat in this particular instance.
According to an investigative report by John Kass of the Chicago Tribune, reports from staff and family members who were at the scene challenge the police’s official report, arguing that in spite of police claims, Wrana did not pose much of a threat. Wrana, who was described by his family as an independent, vital man who still regularly partook in the nursing home’s activities, was still physically weak and often required a walker to move.
Though police claimed Wrana had armed himself with a 12-inch butcher knife, staff explained they did not see any weapon when they were in his room. Wrana was also seated at the time of the incident, casting further doubt on police claims that he needed to be forcefully subdued, especially with equipment typically used for riot control. Were they afraid he would hobble over with the knife stuck point-forward in his walker?
The staff even claimed they pleaded with police to let them handle the situation. If unarmed staff were willing to let armed police step aside to assist an allegedly dangerous man, what does that tell you about his true threat level? It does appear this case is a matter of over-enthusiasm for aggressive tactics replacing due discretion.
Nicholas Graspas, the attorney representing Wrana family in a possible lawsuit, contends that olice could have merely stood by and waited until Wrana cooled down or fell asleep, but they did not.
Ultimately, one the most tragic parts of this story is that it was a minor incident, which may have never even required a police presence, much less riot gear. In the end, force was used to resolve a situation which was likely to naturally dissipate.
Police face violence on the street and are frequently placed in harm’s way. This is a fact, and it makes the need for quick, intelligent decision-making all the more important. What appears to have happened in Park Forest, Illinois is the latest story of where overzealous police action goes terribly wrong.
Maybe they were bored. Maybe they were tense already. Maybe they saw Wrana, weak and sitting in his chair as he wielded what may have been an imaginary knife, as a legitimate threat to the peace.
From the facts known and that which is reasonably conceivable, it does not appear the authorities succeeded in keeping the peace in the Wrana case. The failure of the Park Forest police should be looked at as a teachable moment for law enforcement, an example of what to never do or let happen.