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Canberra, May 19 – A 95-year-old woman with dementia is currently hospitalised with life-threatening head injuries after she was tasered by police at her aged care home in Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state, officials said on Friday.
Police officers were called to the Yallambee Lodge in Cooma town, some 397 from state capital Sydney, after reports that the woman, Clare Nowland, was carrying a knife, reports the BBC.
Addressing the media on Friday, NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Cotter said that Nowland had been found in her room “armed” with a steak knife on early Wednesday morning.
Both officers and care home staff tried to de-escalate the situation, before she began approaching police, “it is fair to say at a slow pace”, and was tasered, he said, adding: “She had a walking frame. But she had a knife.”
NSW Police has launched a critical incident investigation, which Commissioner Karen Webb said is being treated with “the utmost seriousness”.
“I understand and share the community concerns,” she said.
The officer involved has not been suspended, but will be interviewed as part of the investigation, which will include the homicide squad.
Meanwhile, the incident has sparked widespread outrage, the BBC reported.
Family friend Andrew Thaler told the BBC that Nowland was struck twice — in the chest and back — before she fell, suffering a fractured skull and serious brain bleed.
“The family are shocked, they’re confused… and the community is outraged. How can this happen? How do you explain this level of force? It’s absurd,” he said.
Community groups, including the NSW Council for Civil Liberties and People with Disability Australia (PwD), have criticised the police response.
“She’s either one hell of an agile, fit, fast and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there’s a very poor lack of judgement (from) those police officers,” PwD President Nicole Lee told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“She needed somebody to… handle her with compassion and time, and not tasers.”