A 95-year-old woman with dementia died one week after a police officer in Australia shocked her with a stun gun in a nursing home, officials said Wednesday.
Clare Nowland “passed away peacefully in hospital just after 7pm this evening, surrounded by family and loved ones who have requested privacy during this sad and difficult time,” the New South Wales Police Force said in a statement posted online.
Two officers had arrived at Nowland’s nursing home in Cooma early on the morning on May 17 following reports of a person armed with a knife.
Kristian White, a 33-year-old senior constable, shot a stun gun at Nowland in her home as she approached on a walker while carrying a steak knife. The woman then fell to the ground and hit her head, fracturing her skull.
“At the time she was tasered, she was approaching police,” NSW Police Force Assistant Commissioner Peter Cotter told reporters last week. “It is fair to say at a slow pace. She had a walking frame. But she had a knife.”
Body camera footage of the encounter has not yet been released. But news of the incident outraged local community members and others who criticized the use of force against a 95-pound person.
“She’s either one hell of an agile, fit, fast and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there’s a very poor lack of judgment on those police officers and there really needs to be some accountability on their side,” said Nicole Lee, the president of advocacy group People With Disability Australia.
NSW officers are prohibited from using stun guns on people who are “elderly or disabled” unless “exceptional circumstances” call for it, according to the police force’s conduct guide. The rule also applies when dealing with anyone who has a “particularly small body mass.”
White, who has roughly 12 years of experience on the force, was suspended from the police force with pay amid an investigation. He has also been charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault, though the charges may be upgraded following Nowland’s death.
White is set to appear in court July 5.
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