‘She had a walking frame but she had a knife’: Police defend tasering of woman, 95, as she receives end-of-life care

19 May 2023, 12:15 | Updated: 19 May 2023, 12:56

Clare Nowland is in critical condition after being tasered.
Clare Nowland is in critical condition after being tasered. Picture: PA/Getty

By Jenny Medlicott

An elderly woman is in critical condition after she was tasered by an Australian officer for approaching with a knife while also using her walking frame.

Clare Nowland was tasered early Wednesday morning in Australia, causing her to fall and hit her head, leading to life-threatening injuries.

She was carrying a steak knife while she used her walking frame to approach an officer at a "slow pace", before the officer tasered her.

New South Wales police confirmed on Friday that the homicide team is investigating the incident as the woman is now in critical condition as a result of the taser.

Ms Nowland is in Cooma district hospital, accompanied by family at her bedside, and is reportedly falling in and out of consciousness.

On Wednesday the police released limited details of the incident, as they reported an elderly woman had “sustained injuries during an interaction” with an officer – but the use of a taser was omitted from the report.

Police are treating the incident as a level one critical incident, which involves “an injury that leads to death or imminent death”.

Ms Nowland, who suffers from dementia, left the room of her aged care facility, Yallambee Lodge, in the early hours of the morning before going to the kitchen and taking a steak knife, police said.

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The elderly woman left Yallambee Lodge Cooma.
The elderly woman left Yallambee Lodge Cooma. Picture: Google

The police said they tried to negotiate with the 95-year-old, and say she advanced as a “slow pace” while using a walking frame.

Off-duty officers had to be called in to respond after the incident as Cooma does not have a 24-hour police station.

Ms Nowland has been described as frail at 5”2 and 43kg.

Police have entire footage from the incident, recorded on body cameras – but will not be releasing the footage publicly.

Peter Cotter, the NSW assistant police commissioner said tasers are intended for self-defence, but he said he could not “transport myself to the mind of the actual officer or officers” involved.

He said: “At the time she was tasered she was approaching police, it is fair to say at a slow pace.

“She had a walking frame. But she had a knife. I can’t take it any further what was going through anyone’s mind with the use of a taser. That is for them.

“No officer, not one of us, is above the law and all our actions will be scrutinised robustly and from a criminal perspective as well as a departmental perspective.”

The internal investigation is being monitored by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (LECC) and will be reviewed by NSW police professional standards.

Many have condemned the use of force and called on an independent probe into the incident.

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Clare Nowland was approaching the officer at a "slow pace".
Clare Nowland was approaching the officer at a "slow pace". Picture: PA

The LECC said: “The NSWPF are investigating the circumstances of the incident and the investigation will be reviewed by the Professional Standards Command.

“The LECC is independently monitoring the investigation under Part 8 of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission Act 2016 to ensure public confidence in the investigation.”

Josh Pallas, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties president, said: “Police should never investigate police.

“The NSW ombudsman and the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission should initiate an inquiry into this because it transcends issues of police powers with mental health and ageing

“We need to ensure that no matter what the circumstances of this case that our elderly nursing home residents are protected. That includes protection from excessive police force.”

The president of People with Disability Australia, Nicole Lee told the ABC: “She’s either one hell of an agile, fit, fast and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there’s a very poor lack of judgment on those police officers and there really needs to be some accountability on their side of this.”

Ms Nowland’s aged care facility, Yallambee Lodge, was reported to be under pressure due to high levels of occupancy, according a recent report form the council.

In February it was found to be fully compliant with the Commonwealth’s aged care quality standards.

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