Police defend controversial use of taser on 95-year-old great-grandmother with dementia

May 22, 2023
NSW Police criticised for lack of transparency and delayed response in alleged tasering incident of 95-year-old aged-care resident, Clare Nowland. Source: Getty

NSW Police have revealed that they are choosing not to front the media over the alleged tasering incident of aged-care resident Clare Nowland until the facts “become clear”.

On Wednesday, May 17, a 95-year-old great-grandmother was rushed to hospital for a suspected fractured skull and “brain bleed” after local police allegedly tased her.

It is understood that police allegedly tased Nowland to disarm her after she was found wandering around her aged care residence allegedly holding a knife.

Police have said the use of the taser was to de-escalate the situation after Nowland had allegedly advanced on them. She did so at a “slow pace” and with “a walking frame.”

“At the time she was Tasered she was approaching police, it is fair to say at a slow pace,” Peter Cotter, the NSW Assistant Police Commissioner, said.

“She had a walking frame. But she had a knife.”

Since the incident, NSW police have remained quiet about their investigation and the events that unfolded.

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb claimed that their decision not to speak to the public about the incident earlier was because they “had to wait” for the “facts”.

“Then we had to wait for the investigators to get onto the ground in Cooma, and those investigators have come from Sydney, and we have had to wait for those facts to become clear to us,” Webb said.

It is also understood that police have body-camera footage from the morning of the incident, but are choosing not to release it, with Webb saying she is “not sure” why there is a need for the video to be released.

“Body-worn video is subject to legislative requirements around the surveillance devices act and other things, so it is not routine and we don’t intend to release it, unless there is a process at the end of this that would allow it to be released,” she said.

Webb has admittedly not seen the video herself but has heard the audio, adding that she does not “see it necessary” to watch the recording.

As more information regarding their conduct emerges, advocacy groups have voiced their outrage at how the incident was managed.

“It’s just becoming more and more alarming, the more we are told,” Nicole Lee, President of People with Disability Australia, said.

“It’s pretty clear that the response, in this case, is too heavy-handed and completely inappropriate and not warranted in relation to the situation that they were faced with.”

Lee said the incident is a clear indicator that police are not properly trained to handle situations where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis.

“It really does highlight the fact that police are coming into scenarios like this and clearly they don’t have enough training behind them or support behind them to de-escalate a situation for someone who is in a mental health crisis or is experiencing confuse or distress, including due to dementia,” she said.

The police officer who allegedly tasered Nowland was a senior constable with 12 years of police experience. He has been taken off duty, with his status under review.

Nowland remains in hospital where she is now reportedly in critical condition.

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