- Written by Tiffany Turnbull and Tom Housden
- BBC News, Sydney
An elderly woman with dementia is in hospital with life-threatening head injuries after she was tasered by police in a nursing home.
Officers were called to Yallambee Lodge in Cooma after reports that 95-year-old Claire Nowland was carrying a knife.
The early morning incident sparked an outcry over what advocates called a disproportionate response.
The Chief Constable of New South Wales (NSW) said she shares the community’s concerns, and the matter is being investigated.
Peter Cotter, Assistant Commissioner of Police, told the media on Friday that Ms Knowland was found in her room “armed” with a steak knife in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Both officers and care home staff tried to calm the situation down, before she began calling the police – “it’s fair to say at a slow pace” – and was electrocuted.
“She had a walking frame,” he said. “But she carried a knife.”
Andrew Thaler, a family friend, claims that Mrs. Knowland was shot twice—in the chest and back—before she fell, sustaining a fractured skull and severe cerebral hemorrhage.
He told the BBC her family was really sad because they did not expect her to live.
“The family is shocked and confused…the community is angry.”
“How could this happen? How do you explain this level of strength? It’s absurd.”
Community groups, including the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties and People with Disabilities Australia (PwD), have criticized the police response.
“She is either a graceful, fit, quick and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there is an extreme lack of judgment.” [from] Nicole Lee, Chair of the Progressive Labor Party, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“She needed someone… who would deal with her with mercy and time, not tasers.”
NSW Police have launched an investigation into a serious incident, which Commissioner Karen Webb said was being taken “very seriously”.
“I understand and share the concerns of the community,” she said.
The officer involved has not been suspended, but will be interviewed as part of the investigation, which will include a murder squad.
“No officer, and none of us, is above the law,” said Mr. Cotter.
“All our actions will be scrutinized strictly from a criminal perspective as well.”
The care home, which is run by Snowy Monaro Regional Council, has defended its response. The council’s chief operating officer, Geoff Morgan, told local media that staff followed procedures and did what was required under the circumstances.
Yallambee Lodge opened in 1995 and caters to residents with “higher needs,” according to its website.
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