According to reports by the Chicago Tribune and NBC Chicago, John Warna, a 95-year-old resident of an assisted living facility, died early Saturday morning after a confrontation with police officers at Victory Centre, a supportive living facility located at 101 Main Street in Park Forest. The facility is owned and managed by Pathways Senior Living Senior Living, a privately held company based in Chicago.
On Friday evening, police were called to the facility after Warna became combative with a team of paramedics. According to a statement on the Park Forest Police Facebook page, when police arrived Wrana was holding a cane and a two foot metal shoehorn but later “armed himself with a 12″ butcher type kitchen knife.” When he did not comply with repeated orders to drop the weapon they first used a Taser on him and then “less lethal bean bag rounds in an attempt to get him to drop the knife without causing serious injury.” After being hit, the 95-year-old dropped the knife and was taken into police custody. The police statement noted that he was alert and talking during medical transport, but died several hours later. A follow-up report by the Chicago Tribune from Sunday said an autopsy determined that Warna’s cause of death was bleeding in the stomach area as a result of trauma. Currently, the Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit is reviewing the incident, according to The Park Forest Police’s Facebook page.
As with any profession, police officers are required to operate with extreme caution and follow strict protocols when using “non-lethal” devices such as pepper spray, tasers, and bean bags. Although in many cases, the situation calls for the use of tasers and bean bags to subdue violent suspects, a number of instances involving the misuse or abuse of these non-lethal weapons have been reported. This includes several incidents of abuse involving elderly victims that gained national media attention. People suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s may exhibit violent behavior so it is important for family members, caregivers and law enforcement to understand the causes of this type of behavior and the best ways to deal with it.
In June 2012, a 77-year-old nursing home resident and war veteran who suffered from dementia died after being tasered by police in Montana. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in May to seek answers surrounding his death. In February of this year, a Minnesota nursing home resident who also suffered from dementia was tasered after stabbing a nursing home employee with a pen. Following his apprehension he was hospitalized for treatment of his taser-related injuries. And in Indiana, a similar incident actually led to legislation to requiring police officers to undergo training on on how to handle situations involving people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The law came after a 64-year-old resident suffering from Alzheimer’s was injured after being tasered by police. The victim’s wife filed a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of her husband, and these actions drew the attention of a state representative who drafted legislation to protect others suffering from dementia.
As our population ages and more and more people fall victim to Alzheimer’s and dementia, we will likely continue to read stories involving the use of non-lethal weapons on nursing home residents and other individuals suffering from dementia. Therefore, it is crucial for states and municipalities to take action now to prevent others from being seriously injured or killed during incidents with law officials.
We will continue to monitor new developments surrounding Warna’s death but it is important to note that reports do not say at this time whether Warna may or may not have suffered from dementia. It is also not known whether his family will seek answers through legal action or if this incident will lead to new laws in Illinois requiring police training to handle violent situations involving dementia sufferers.