A police tactics expert witness testified at the trial of an officer accused of excessive and unnecessary use of force in the death a 95-year-old man during a nursing home incident. The incident taking place in a Chicago suburb gained national attention in 2013, and the resulting criminal trial featured expert police testimony this week that supported the prosecution’s case that the officer in question went too far in exercising his authority to use force.
Officer in Beanbag Shooting Death Faces Trial
Officer Craig Taylor came to trial for shooting John Wrana with 5 beanbag bullets during a confrontation in 2013. The unfortunate incident between the World War II veteran and the Park Forest, Illinois officer started when Taylor was one of several officers to respond to a 911 call from staff at the Victory Center Retirement home. According to Victory Center staff, Wrana resisted a risky surgical procedure due to fear of ending up on life support, becoming agitated, combative, and threatening before striking an EMT on the scene. The first officers arriving on the scene confronted Wrana in his nursing home apartment in an effort to calm him down, but retreated after the 95-year old threatened them with what appeared to be a knife.
As the confrontation escalated, the responding officers called for backup, and Officer Taylor joined the scene along with Commander Michael Baugh, who brought a riot shield and a 12-gauge beanbag shotgun. After Wrana’s continued refusal to resolve the situation, the officers entered the apartment using Baugh’s riot shield and attempted to neutralize Mr. Wrana by use of a Taser. When the Taser charge failed, Officer Taylor directly ordered Wrana to drop the weapon before firing five beanbag rounds at him from a distance of 6 – 8 feet. After refusing surgery, Wrana died from his wounds at a local hospital.
Officer Taylor testified that he was afraid for his life and the life of his fellow officers, and believed that it was reasonable to discharge his less-lethal weapon at a suspect who was threatening violence and refusing to comply with police orders. Prosecutors disagreed during trial, and presented evidence in the form of expert witness testimony that argued that the confrontation was escalated by Officer Taylor unnecessarily.
Police Expert Witness Testifies Officer Used Excessive Force
To bolster its case that Officer Taylor used excessive and unnecessary force, the prosecution called to the stand Frank Murphy, a former New Jersey cop who now works as a police tactics expert witness. After reviewing the facts of the Wrana shooting, Murphy testified, “There was no threat until Officer Craig Taylor and the others confronted him.” Finding that Officer Taylor and his colleagues went too far, Murphy’s expert testimony criticized the police for not choosing to rely on their riot shield, which could block a knife attack, to approach Wrana and subdue him without use of beanbag bullet shotgun.
Defense attorneys for Officer Taylor offered a vigorous cross examination of the prosecution’s police tactics expert witness, using the opportunity to point out that Taylor believed he had been following procedure and that there were risks of injury to Wrana by Murphy’s proposed use of the riot shield. Murphy maintained that, in his opinion, the situation was only elevated to the level of violence due to Taylor’s unnecessary use of the beanbag shotgun that led to Wrana’s death. The use of a beanbag weapon was, according to Murphy’s expert testimony, an excessive and unnecessary use of force.
Defense Argues Victim Declined Life Saving Procedure
An interesting side note to the trial that may minimize the impact of Murphy’s police tactics expert testimony is the defense’s argument that ultimately Wrana’s refusal of surgery after the shooting was what caused his death. During testimony from one of the doctors on scene at the Victory Center home, it was revealed that Wrana repeatedly denied life-saving measures to remedy the injuries sustained during his confrontation with police. Defense attorneys for Officer Taylor will likely present a medical expert witness to establish Wrana could have survived, meaning the actions of the police were not the ultimate cause of the 95-year-old’s death.
If a jury accepts Murphy’s expert testimony that Officer Taylor acted with excessive and unnecessary force, and also accepts that Wrana would have lived if he had accepted medical attention, then the officer on trial would likely face lesser consequences. While he still may have acted excessively, which is a matter of debate considering Wrana’s role in the incident, Officer Taylor may not have been ultimately at fault for causing death. As with all police-use-of-force trials, the prosecution’s case rests heavily on its police tactic expert witness, but in this particular case a medical expert will also impact the outcome.