Over thirty years ago I was working the police wagon in Lawndale. The wagon during that era transported prisoners, sick and injured people, dead bodies, and handled whatever other police calls that came along.
One hot humid summer Sunday morning, we were assigned to transport a person to a psychiatric institution. When we arrived at the address on Douglas Boulevard, a group of people were standing there dressed in their Sunday finery. A man approached us and handed me a court order. He explained that his mother was having mental issues. He went to court to have her committed. The laws regarding the mentally ill were much different back then.
I asked where she was. He told me she was in their apartment on the third floor. Wonderful, the last thing you want to do on a hot humid summer day is walk up six flights of stairs to the third floor. We did it. We found the elderly woman sitting on her bed. We explained that we had to take her to the hospital. She became agitated and angrily told us she was not going anywhere. Her son was just trying to get rid of her. We tried to talk to her calmly. She made it clear she was not leaving "her home". I reached out to take her elbow and she pulled back. She became extremely angry. She told us she may be 75 years old but she was not stupid. She knew her son did not want her living under his roof.
It was time to back off and walk away. I explained to the gentleman that we could not remove her from the aprtment. He insisted that we honor the court order and remove her. I told him the only way we could do that was to grab her, handcuff her, and drag her down six flights of stairs. I asked him if he wanted his children to see their grandmother treated that way. I suggested he take the family to church, let her cool off, and call back later.
Two days later I received a complaint from what was then the Office of Professional Standards. It was for failing to obey and execute a court order. That is a very serious charge. I was also told that the head of OPS wanted my head over this, as he considered it a slam dunk complaint. He wanted a trophy for the media or his wall, or something.
Being a slick operator, I called the judge who issued the order. I explained the situation to him. I related the only way we would be able to remove the woman was to use physical force. The judge became angry over the complaint. He assured me that he would call the head of OPS and straighten the issue out. If he could not do that, he would hold me in contempt of court, bring all the parties, including the head of OPS into his court room, and read them the riot act. That, he said, would be on the public record. With a chuckle, he said that court records mysteriously are leaked to the press all the time.
A few days later the District Commander called me into his office. Evidently the head of OPS was incensed. The judge read him the riot act. The head of OPS fumed to the Deputy Superintendent of Internal Affairs and the Superintendent of Police. He wanted to know who I thought I was to call a judge. He was told in no uncertain terms that he was wrong. I was warned to be very careful for a while, at least until his wrath subsided.
What brought this trip down Memory Lane up is the story of John Wrana, a 96 year old World War II veteran. He was suffering from demetia and living in a nursing home in Park Forest. Mr. Wrana was killed in his room at the nursing home by the Park Forest Police. He was tased and shot in the abdomen with a bean bag round fired from a shotgun. Evidently Mr. Wrana had some type of episode. He was armed with a long shoe horn and what was described as a "kitchen knife".
A SWAT team arrived in full Ninja Warrior regalia, including riot shields. Mr. Wrana was backed into or returned to his room of his own accord. He sat down in a chair. At that point, reasonable people possessing common sense would have backed off. A 96 year old man sitting in a chair poses no real threat to anyone. If well trained police officers cannot handle a frail 96 year old man, how can they be expected to handle anyone else?
I was embarrassed, shocked, and appalled when I read the story of Mr Wrana. I could not believe supposedly professional police officers would kill a 96 year old man, especially if they had been trained properly in handling senior citizens and people with mental illness issues.
During the police academy and my thirty year career on the Chicago Police Department one thing was always stressed. We should protect and do no harm to the most vulnerable in society, small children and the elderly. The elderly should be treated with respect and dignity, even if they are suffering from dementia and may appear violent.
I handled many incidents of people who suffered from some type of mental illness or distress. Drastic measures were only taken in a few, and those were due to people high on PCP who became exceedingly violent and dangerous.
When this investigation is over, the public deserves a complete explanation why Park Forest Police Officers fired a bean bag round at close range from a shotgun at a 96 year old man in a nursing home. As Desi Arnaz used to say, the Park Forest Police have some "splaining to do"
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