John Wrana's family held a news conference in Chicago the other day, wondering if they'll ever get answers as to why police killed the 95-year-old World War II veteran.
"Somebody has to be held accountable," said his stepdaughter, Sharon Mangerson. "He was in a very fragile state of health. He fell frequently — a very proud man. He hated to use the walker.
"They could have just thrown a sheet over him, and pulled his legs out from under him."
But if you've been following the Wrana case in this column, you know that's not what Park Forest police did to Wrana on the evening of July 26.
Instead, police tased him, then shot him at close range in the stomach with a beanbag round from a police riot shotgun. Wrana died of internal bleeding hours later.
Police then issued a statement saying they were called to the Victory Centre assisted-living facility in Park Forest after Wrana refused medical treatment and threatened staff and others with a 2-foot-long shoehorn and a knife. Now they won't comment, although I'm still trying to get their side of the story. If you're a regular reader, you know I don't go on witch hunts against cops who have difficult jobs.
The Illinois State Police is still investigating whether the killing was justified, so no one is talking officially. But we've been learning as much as we could for almost two months now, and experts have shed light on two key aspects of the case:
•Beanbag rounds from a police shotgun are potentially deadly when used on young, fit men, let alone a feeble 95-year-old.
•And the condition that Mr. Wrana was suffering from that night — said by his family's attorney to be a urinary tract infection — can cause delirium and similar symptoms in elderly men. Those who don't understand this might not respond properly.
First, the shotgun.
Wrana, at 95, may well be the oldest American killed by a beanbag round. He died of blunt-force trauma causing internal hemorrhaging. He bled out from the inside.
Dr. William Bozeman, an associate professor at the Department of Emergency Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, is an expert in the field of "less-lethal weaponry," meaning Tasers and shotguns that fire beanbag rounds.
"I always train my younger doctors to look for internal injuries, because that's exactly what you might expect and might see," he said in an interview.
Dr. Bozeman said police should always consider the "use-of-force spectrum" during confrontations. Bean-bag rounds, he said, "are fairly high up on that spectrum. A good comparison would be the use of a K-9 dog. If you deploy that dog, you fully expect some injuries to the recipient. So it shouldn't be used without justification and without expectation that there would be some injury."
Police are told not to fire beanbag rounds at a close distance. But the family's lawyer, Nicholas Grapsas, says Mr. Wrana may have been within 15 feet, and even as close as 5 feet. There are no universal guidelines about distance, Dr. Bozeman says, but most police departments use manufacturer's recommendations. We found several such minimum-distance recommendations, which ranged from 21 feet to 50 feet.
Now about urinary tract infections, or UTI.
Dr. William Dale is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical School specializing in geriatrics.
He'd read about the Wrana case in this column, and was interviewed on the condition he wouldn't be speaking directly about the specifics of the case. But I wanted to know about the effects of UTI on an elderly male patient.
"Yes, they develop what we would call delirium," Dr. Dale told me. "There can be an acute change in their mental status with infections like UTI. And there are two theories."
One theory involves the production of enzymes in the body fighting an infection. The enzymes migrate to the brain. Another theory is that as the body uses up resources to fight infection, not enough glucose and oxygen get to the brain.
Either way, such patients can sometimes develop symptoms of paranoia and believe they are in danger. Training for staff and first responders, like police, is critical, Dr. Dale said.
"It depends on the protocols at the facility," he said. "At the nursing home I'm calling you from, the nurses are well-trained. At an assisted living facility, it depends."
Dr. Dale said it is imperative that police respond gently when dealing with such a patient. They should make sure the lights are on and that their behavior is nonconfrontational.
"You redirect the patient," he said. "You tell them why you're in their room, and you say, sometimes in a loud but clear voice, 'Why don't we just sit down and talk?'"
We still don't know what happened in that room. The Park Forest police may have had a good reason for what they did, or they may not have. We just don't know.
But after talking to many investigators and health professionals about this case, there's nothing we've heard that excuses first tasing, then firing a bean bag round at a proud and frightened 95-year-old man.
"There are rules they've got to follow," said his grandson Steve Mangerson. "But at some point you've got to think about it and say, 'Hey, this isn't right.' An old man, you take his cane away and he'd walk three steps and fall."