Top cop admits taser footage of 95yo gran confronting

Luke Costin and Phoebe Loomes |

Senior police concede seeing an officer taser a frail, 95-year-old grandmother using a walking frame in a NSW aged care facility is “confronting” as outrage grows over the incident.

Clare Nowland is receiving end-of-life care in Cooma District Hospital surrounded by her distraught family after she was critically injured when tasered on Wednesday morning.

Staff at the Yallambee Lodge nursing home called police after the woman, who has dementia, is 43kg and uses a walking frame, took a serrated steak knife from the kitchen into a small treatment room.

Police and ambulance officers tried to get Mrs Nowland to drop the knife before a senior constable fired his taser once as she slowly approached them, Assistant Commissioner Peter Cotter said on Friday.

She fell and her head struck the floor.

“This is a very live and very serious investigation which the Homicide Squad is investigating, and in the rights of everyone involved, the investigation process has to carry on,” Mr Cotter said.

“We can’t talk too much specifically about the incident but generally we say (the taser) is there as a piece of equipment to defend yourself when you think your life or someone else’s is in danger.”

The officer who fired the electric shock weapon joined the force 12 years ago and has been taken off active duty.

The critical incident investigation has been elevated to “level one” because of Mrs Nowland suffering an injury that could lead to her death.

Mr Cotter declined to say whether the officer might face criminal charges, saying it would breach procedural fairness.

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

The assistant commissioner said he had seen the body camera footage and agreed with a family friend it was confronting. He has declined to release it publicly.

Before the incident, Mrs Nowland had been walking around the nursing home for a number of hours. Ambulance officers arrived before police, who were off duty and had to be called to the nursing home.

Family friend and community advocate Andrew Thaler called on NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb to meet the family in person to help them understand what happened.

He questioned what threat could have been posed by Mrs Nowland, who stands at about 155cm, and whether the presence of police escalated the situation.

“To allege she was brandishing a knife is the most absurd thing … was she making toast, was she hungry? I think it’s a lie,” he said.

“The police should never have been called.”

Police guidelines say an officer can use a stun gun when violent resistance is occurring or imminent, or when an officer is in danger of being overpowered.

But the guidelines also list a range of situations where a Taser should not be used “unless exceptional circumstances exist”. 

These include using the weapon on an elderly or disabled subject, or on a subject of particularly small body mass.

Since the incident on Wednesday, senior police had been engaging with the family who are at Mrs Nowland’s bedside, Mr Cotter said.

“We feel for all her family. We have been in contact on the ground there at Cooma,” he said.

Police initially described the incident as “an interaction” between officers and Mrs Nowland, but Ms Webb on Friday stressed the force understood the gravity of the situation.

NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Josh Pallas said police should not be using Tasers on vulnerable people experiencing dementia or a mental health crisis.

The incident was a tragic example of the need for healthcare workers to receive compulsory dementia care training, Dementia Australia said.

“We have received calls and emails from people living with dementia, their families and carers expressing their anger and sadness for Ms Nowland and her family.”

The Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which runs Yallambee Lodge, said staff had followed procedure and support was being provided to them and residents.