Police shocked a 95-year-old woman with a stun gun as she approached them using a walker and carrying a steak knife at an Australian care home, sending her to hospital in critical condition after her head hit the floor.
The extraordinary police removal of dementia-suffering Clare Nowland on Wednesday prompted a high-level internal police investigation.
It has also sparked debate about how the NSW State Police use stun guns, which are widely known as Tasers after a major manufacturer. They are a less lethal option than firearms, but have occasionally been found to be more dangerous than other police options.
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Police said Nowland received his injuries from hitting his head on the floor, rather than directly from the debilitating electric shock from the stun gun.
Two police officers went to Yallambee Lodge, a care home in the town of Cooma specializing in residents with higher care needs, including dementia, after staff said Nowland had taken a serrated steak knife from the kitchen .
Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Cotter declined to say whether he thought a police officer with 12 years of experience had used excessive force when firing a stun gun at Nowland, who is 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 95 pounds.
Cotter said police engaged in “negotiations” with Nowland for several minutes and used the stun gun when they approached the door where the officers were.
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“At the time she was tasered, she was approaching the police. But fair to say at a slow pace. She had a walker. But she had a knife. I can’t go any further on what was going through anyone’s mind.” Cotter told reporters.
Nicole Lee, chair of advocacy group People with Disability Australia, said she was shocked by the police response.
“Either she’s a lithe, fit, quick and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there’s a poor lack of judgment on those police officers and there really has to be some accountability on their side,” Lee said.
Family spokesman Andrew Thaler said Nowland’s dementia “was waxing and waning”.
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“The question will be, how was it appropriate to use this level of force on a 95-year-old woman?” Thaler was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald.
Cotter described the video of the incident from the two police officers’ body cameras as “comparison footage”. But he said the video was part of an internal police investigation and that it “would not be in the public interest to publish it”.
Cotter said the police officer who fired the stun gun at the time “wasn’t on the job,” but it was unclear whether the officer was suspended.
Nowland, a great-grandmother, made headlines in 2008 when she went skydiving to celebrate her 80th birthday.