A deputy police commissioner has snapped at reporters wanting to know if a senior police officer who verbally abused a 95-year-old woman and let her live will be charged.
Clare Nowland, who has dementia and is 1.57 meters tall and weighs just 43 kilograms, was tasered by police at Yallambee Lodge aged care facility near Cooma in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains around 4am on Wednesday shot at.
According to a police report, Ms Nowland was alone in a treatment room with a knife at the time, having previously retrieved it from the kitchen. Officers allege that Ms Nowland was walking towards police with her walker “at a slow pace” when she was tasered by a senior police officer with 12 years’ experience.
The taser blast caused her to fall and hit her head. Community leader Andrew Thaler told Daily Mail Australia on Friday morning that Ms Nowland is now receiving terminal care at the hospital.
Her family have gathered around her and expect that she will not have long to live, Mr. Thaler said.
Deputy Commissioner Peter Cotter stressed that the investigation into the incident was being taken very seriously, but repeatedly declined to answer questions about whether the lead officer who fired the taser would be charged.
“I’m not the investigator, I’m in no position to speak about whether or not this officer will be prosecuted,” he said.
Towards the end of the press conference, Asst Cmnr Cotter was asked, “What possible charges could the officer face?”
“I won’t answer that,” he replied.
Clare Nowland, who has dementia, was injured during an “interaction” with officers at Yallambee Lodge, near Cooma
Police officers were called to the nursing home (pictured) after she was told she had a kitchen knife. Ms Nowland was tasered while standing by her walker
Sombre NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Cotter said Ms Nowland spent a couple of hours wandering the facility with the knife
Asst Cmnr Cotter then thanked the journalist for asking the question but cautioned her against asking further.
“I know where you’re going with this, but to be absolutely fair to everyone involved, I’m not going to discuss this particular officer and any criminal charges,” he said.
“Let me soften that for you.” But please don’t ask again. I think I’m aware of that.’
“She had a walker. But she had a knife’
The senior police officer made a public statement about the incident for the first time, describing how two officers went to the scene after receiving a call about Ms Nowland wandering around with a knife.
Asst Cmnr Cotter said police “bargained” with Ms Nowland and tried to persuade her to put down the kitchen utensil, which he described as a serrated steak knife.
“She approached the police, but it’s fair to say they moved slowly,” he said.
“She had a walker. But she had a knife.
“She had a knife in her hand and it’s fair to say she was armed with that knife.” The knife was a steak knife.
“Negotiations with Clare have begun to essentially drop the knife.” For some reason, Clare didn’t.’
Asst Cmnr Cotter revealed there was “confrontational” bodycam footage of the incident but insisted the video’s release was “not in the public interest” – despite international outrage at the harshness of the police response.
Asst Cmnr Cotter also suggested that Ms Nowland’s case be treated as if she might soon be deceased. He said the top-level incident investigation currently underway by the NSW Homicide Squad was consistent with a “potential coronary investigation”.
She had a walker. But she had a knife
Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Cotter
Despite assurances from the Deputy Commissioner that Ms Nowland’s family did not want to speak to the media, Daily Mail Australia understands she was ordered not to speak to reporters.
The 12-year-old police officer who verbally abused Ms Nowland was temporarily resigned while the incident was being investigated.
“I can’t say whether or not this officer … will be prosecuted,” he said.
In the hours following the incident, which involved two police officers, the NSW Police Force initially described the Taser shots as nothing more than “interacting” with officers.
It was unclear why an assistant commissioner rather than Commissioner Karen Webb moderated the media.
An independent investigation into the incident is currently underway.
What we know about the incident
Mr Thaler previously said Ms Nowland’s family believed their beloved eldest member could have simply been making toast in one of the kitchens beforehand.
“Her family is just in disbelief (about what happened),” he said.
The family believes that the facility itself did not have enough staff to care for patients with dementia.
According to the council’s website, Yallambee Lodge is a 40-bed facility intended for people who can no longer fend for themselves in their own homes.
Mr Thaler surmised that as of 4am there were only two nurses on duty for 40 patients in five homes and there was “a lack of training and for some of these staff English was not their first language they may have panicked”.
He said funding for dementia care to be set up in Yallambee had not been passed on by Snowy Monaro Regional Council but was urgently needed.
Mr Thaler urged NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb to travel to Cooma and sit down with Ms Nowland’s family to undertake the difficult task of following the police bodycam of the incident.
On Thursday evening, Commissioner Webb said in a statement: “My thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”
“I understand and share the community’s concerns and I assure you that we are treating this matter with the utmost seriousness.”
Ms Nowland is a local community supporter who worked at the local St Vincent de Paul’s shop and has been described as a “helper who loves helping people”.
Police were called to the care home early Wednesday after being told Ms Nowland was in possession of a kitchen knife.
Police claim they tried to speak to her but then verbally abused her as she stood next to her walker.
It is believed that officers struggled to disarm her before pulling out their tasers and firing at her back and chest.
She fell down, hit her head and was taken to the hospital.
Ms Nowland, who was well known in the local community and was believed to have been at the facility for around five years, collapsed and suffered serious injuries.
Josh Pallas, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said police should not use Tasers on vulnerable people who have dementia or a mental health crisis.
“Certainly there must be more appropriate ways of dealing with non-compliant people who are suffering,” he said.
NSW Police guidelines allow an officer to use a stun gun when violent resistance is encountered or is imminent, or when there is a risk of an officer being overpowered.
The Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which runs Yallambee Lodge, said staff followed procedure.
“The council is supporting our staff, residents and families during this difficult time,” the council said in a statement.
NSW Police have launched an inquiry into a critical incident to look into the actions of responding officers. The investigation will be subject to an independent review.
Ms Nowland, who was well known in the local community and was believed to have been at the facility for around five years, collapsed and suffered serious injuries
Nicole Lee, President of People with Disability Australia, said it was a “shocking” incident.
“Either she’s an incredibly agile, fit, fast and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or these police officers have a severe lack of judgment and there really needs to be some accountability on their part,” Ms Lee said.
“This woman, an elderly woman of 95, needed someone to de-escalate the situation with her, talk to her, and treat her with compassion and time, not tasers.”
Mr Thaler urged Commissioner Webb to personally explain to Ms Nowland’s family what happened and apologize.
“The country is rightly outraged,” he said.