Is This Who We Really Are? The Story of John Wrana

Our society will be what we accept it to be in terms of justice and public service. So do we remain silent and compliant in the face of increasing physical and constitutional abuses or do we stand up together and loudly say, ENOUGH!

Increasingly, police departments all over the United States are being transformed into military-style units.  These days, even very minor violations of the law can result in a SWAT team raid.  The following is from a recent article by John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute

Consider that in 1980, there were roughly 3,000 SWAT team-style raids in the US. By 2001, that number had grown to 45,000 and has since swelled to more than 80,000 SWAT team raids per year. On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. In fact, there are few communities without a SWAT team on their police force today. In 1984, 25.6 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 people had a SWAT team. That number rose to 80 percent by 2005.


But it is not just local police departments that are being militarized.  This is happening on the federal level as well.  In fact, according to Whitehead even the Department of Education and NASA now have their own SWAT teams. When it comes to SWAT-style tactics being used in routine policing, the federal government is one of the largest offenders, with multiple agencies touting their own SWAT teams, including the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Consumer Product Safety Commission, NASA, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the US National Park Service, and the FDA.

Although we are hearing daily of wide spread abuse, over use of force, and significant harm of both people and animals by various police forces, certainly the case of John Wrana should galvanize us all to stand up and begin the effort to curb these excessive abuses.

The headline read:  Illinois State Police have launched an investigation into why police in Park Forest shot a 95-year-old man with a bean bag round, leading to the man’s death.


Park Forest Police say in a statement they were called to a Victory Centre nursing home at 101 Main Street to assist a private ambulance company with what they say was a combative 95-year-old male resident who was being involuntarily committed for medical treatment. 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.  John’s surgery was likely going to leave him on life support and he made a decision not to have the surgery. One would think that is his prerogative.

John Wrana

WBBM Newsradio’s John Waelti reports World War II veteran John Wrana met his demise at the hands of Park Forest police officers last week, after allegedly threatening nursing home staff and paramedics with a cane, butcher knife, and shoehorn at the Victory Centre assisted living center.

But Wrana family attorney Nicholas Grapsas denied Wrana ever wielded a knife, and questioned why police needed to use force on an elderly man, when the staff was offering to assist. “When the police came, they took over. They wouldn’t even let the staff calm him down, even though they repeatedly, literally, begged them ‘Let us try and calm him down,” Grapsas said.

He claimed officers stormed into the room with riot gear, shooting Wrana with a stun gun. They then shot him in the abdomen with a bean bag round from a shotgun.  Grapsas said Wrana was sitting alone in a chair when police shot him.

The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office said Wrana died from internal bleeding from blunt force trauma caused by the 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.

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.

Ultimately, one the most tragic parts of this story is, 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. However, beyond being a teaching event for law enforcement, it begs us to re-evaluate the militarization of our police forces.

The CATO institute recently found over the last 25 years, America has seen a disturbing militarization of its civilian law enforcement, along with a dramatic and unsettling rise in the use of paramilitary police units (most commonly called Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT) for routine police work. The most common use of SWAT teams today is to serve narcotics warrants, usually with forced, unannounced entry into the home.

These raids bring unnecessary violence and provocation to nonviolent drug offenders, many of whom were guilty of only misdemeanors. The raids terrorize innocents when police mistakenly target the wrong residence. And they have resulted in dozens of needless deaths and injuries, not only of drug offenders, but also of police officers, children, bystanders, and innocent suspects. The complete report can be read here.. Overkill of Police SWAT tactics.

We fund these activities with our tax dollars, both on the local level and through Federal grant programs. I believe it is time to show up your next city council meeting or county supervisors meeting and demand a stand down of these efforts. At minimum, our city and county leaders should have to JUSTIFY such commitment of these resources as it DIRECTLY relates to your locale. We really do have to act on these issues, don’t you think?