Wrana photos document loss of life, loss of dignity

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Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass on Wrana's death and the release of photos taken immediately after the raid.

John Wrana was already bleeding to death, but he didn't know it. He would die several hours later.

The other day, I saw police photographs of his last hours, the old man's bloody hands handcuffed behind him in a hard chair in his apartment at his assisted-living center.

But that photograph wasn't entered into evidence in court Wednesday during a hearing for Craig Taylor, 43, the Park Forest police officer charged with felony reckless conduct in connection with the World War II veteran's violent death last July.

Neither were other police photos of the 95-year-old man before he died, just after Taylor allegedly shot him five times at close range with a 12-gauge police shotgun full of beanbag rounds traveling 190 miles an hour.

The Wrana family attorney, Nicholas Grapsas, got those photos from Park Forest police. Some of them are difficult to look at. The old man, eyes rolling up in his head, the giant bruises on his skin, pain evident, loss of dignity obvious.

I don't know if you'll ever see all of the photos. Some are too gruesome to run in the paper. But they may be used in the criminal case against Taylor. You may have seen photographs of Officer Taylor, short and stocky, a fireplug of a south suburban cop.

He was in the courthouse Wednesday, in that squat hall of Cook County criminal justice at 26th and California.

There was a clerical mix-up, so Taylor missed the formal announcement that he'd been indicted by a Cook County grand jury on a reckless conduct charge. But prosecutors read the charges in the bond courtroom, the place where brutal facts are read every day under fluorescent lights.

Everybody should pay a visit to bond court in Cook County at least once. The newspapers are full of major crimes, sensational murders mostly, but there's plenty of other thuggery in bond court to give you nightmares.

The deputies escort the human parade, the accused often in their street clothes, disheveled after a long night in the jail. There is a depressing catechism to it, the prosecutors reading the charges to the judge, and before them are the young people (mostly young, anyway) in criminal transition, humans being processed.

Taylor, a police officer in Park Forest for 10 years, must have sent his share of souls into this justice machine. Of the many unpredictable things in Chicago, there's one thing you can always count on: At bond court, the accused look like people who've left home in a hurry and are being brought to some undiscovered country that they're not going to like.

Public defenders declare what often sounds like chant — "high school education ... reasonable bond, yeronner" — and then the next one steps forward. White, black or Latino, maybe a stickup man, sometimes a hooker whose knife ended up in her client's chest, sometimes the rare and occasional mope of a taxpayer who did something stupid and regrets it. But regrets are not admissible in bond court.

And now Taylor is one of them, brought to that undiscovered country.

Charged on April 2 by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, who knows a heater case when she sees one, Taylor will be arraigned next week.

Taylor is alleged to have been the cop with the shotgun, firing and pumping and firing and pumping, letting off five rounds into the old man's guts within a distance of 6 to 8 feet.

How he could have pumped and fired five times without superiors stopping him is something I can't understand. He wasn't the only Park Forest cop there. His commander had the riot shield and the Taser, and a corporal was there, and two other cops as well.

All were ready to subdue a delusional and paranoid man just weeks shy of his 96th birthday, an old man who survived the burning of his plane in Burma during World War II. An old man so frail that he needed a cane or a walker to move about. And they subdued him forever.

Taylor could have received a more serious charge, and you have to wonder why his commander skated.

Taylor's criminal defense attorney, Terry Ekl, was interviewed for this column last year, before he agreed to represent Taylor. I'd wondered what the charges, if any, might be. Back then, Ekl said an involuntary manslaughter charge could be considered appropriate if, among other things, "the acts which result in death are done in a reckless fashion."

It sounded logical then and now.

But on Wednesday we asked Ekl this: Given the fact that Taylor's supervisors weren't charged, could Taylor be receiving the scapegoat treatment?

"You'll have to ask the state's attorney that," Ekl said. "I have no opinion at this time as to why they charged Craig and not other people. Because I think Craig never should have been charged."

Someone had to take heat for this, and it wasn't going to be Alvarez.

What worries me is the fear that prosecutors, Park Forest and the judge will do a Pontius Pilate together, lecturing him loudly, then air-washing their hands in court before Taylor gets probation or something like it.

But then there are those police photographs, pictures of the battered old man in his last hours, the expended rounds on the floor, the bent cane, his blue shirt pulled up.

And his bloody hands cuffed as he sat in that hard chair, his fingers as red as if he'd dipped them in paint, dripping onto the carpet below.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass

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