The Australian police are investigating why an experienced officer used a Taser on a 95-year-old woman who had approached him “at a slow pace” while holding a steak knife.
The woman, Clare Nowland, who is 5-foot-2 and 95 pounds, uses a walker and has dementia. She was left in critical condition after a senior constable used the weapon on her on Wednesday morning in the care facility where she lives, causing her to fall and hit her head, according to the police.
“At the time she was Tasered, she was approaching police — but it is fair to say, at a slow pace,” Peter Cotter, the New South Wales Police assistant commissioner, said at a news conference on Friday. “She had a walking frame, but she had a knife.”
The news conference was held after people in the community, rights activists and advocates for those with disabilities expressed outrage, asking whether the officer’s use of force had been necessary.
Paramedics and the police had been called to the Yallambee Lodge aged care facility in the small town of Cooma, in New South Wales, on Wednesday morning because of a report of a resident with a knife, Mr. Cotter said.
They found Ms. Nowland with knife in hand, he said, “and it is fair to say she was armed with that knife. The knife in question was a steak knife, a serrated-edge knife,” which she had obtained from the kitchen some hours earlier.
Although the police tried to negotiate with Ms. Nowland “for a number of minutes,” he said, “for whatever reason, Clare did not drop the knife.”
When she approached the doorway of the room where the two officers were standing, one used the Taser on her, he said.
The episode, which Mr. Cotter described as “confronting,” was captured on body camera footage. He said that the New South Wales police had opened an investigation but declined to say whether the officer could face charges. The officer, who had 12 years’ experience, has been suspended from active duty, he added.
The investigation will be classified as “Level One,” the highest level, and involve the homicide squad, because the injuries Ms. Nowland suffered could lead to her death, he said.
An earlier police statement said only that an older woman had “sustained injuries during an interaction with police” at an aged care facility.
New South Wales police procedures say that “Conducted Electrical Weapons,” as they are also known, should not be used on older or disabled people “unless exceptional circumstances exist.”
Ms. Nowland is known in her community as a longtime volunteer at a local charity, the local news media reported. She was previously covered by the local news media when she went skydiving for her 80th birthday.
It was only in her late 80s that her health began to decline, said Andrew Thaler, a community advocate who has been speaking to Ms. Nowland’s family.
Her relatives were now grieving and preparing for her death, he said.
“They’ve all got mixed emotions; they think she’ll pass tomorrow,” he said.
He rejected the notion that the police officer’s actions could be justified. “She’s 95, she’s all of 43 kilograms and 5 foot 2, and can’t walk without walking assistance,” he said. “To say she would pose any threat to police is absurd.”
He said he wanted to see an independent investigation into the conduct of the police and into why the Yallambee Lodge had called them in the first place.
The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties described the police response as “outrageous overreach,” and the president of People with Disability Australia told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation that aged care facilities should better manage encounters involving people with dementia and avoid using force.
Jeff Morgan, the chief operating officer of the Snowy Monaro Regional Council, which runs the Yallambee Lodge, told The Daily Telegraph that its staff had followed procedures during the episode.