A 95-year-old woman is in critical condition after police in Australia shocked her with a stun gun as she approached them with a walking frame and a steak knife at her nursing home.
Clare Nowland, who has dementia, was taken down by a senior constable, Peter Cotter, the assistant commissioner of New South Wales Police told a news conference Friday.
At the time, “she was approaching police, but it is fair to say at a slow pace,” he said. “She had a walking frame, but she had a knife.”
He added that an internal investigation had been launched into the incident Wednesday at the Yallambee Lodge nursing home in Cooma, a small town around 240 miles south of Sydney.
After responding to a call about a patient having a knife in her possession, Cotter said Nowland was found in a “small confined” treatment room by two officers who arrived at the scene.
“Negotiations commenced for her to drop the knife. For whatever reasons, Clare did not do that,” he said, adding that the senior constable activated his stun gun, which are widely known as Tasers after a major manufacturer.
“I can’t take it any further as to what was going through anyone’s mind,” Cotter said.
The 5-foot-2 woman, who weighs 95 pounds, fell to the ground and struck her head.
Paramedics transferred Nowland to a nearby hospital where her head injury has rendered her bedridden. “She remains in and out of consciousness,” Cotter said.
He added that she had left her bedroom and obtained the knife from the kitchen at Yallambee Lodge, a 93-room facility which “offers a range of accommodation and support options for those with higher care needs, dementia and respite care for both individuals and couples,” according to its website.
NBC News has reached out to Yallambee Lodge for comment.
Community advocate Andrew Thaler, who is assisting the family, said Friday that they were “shocked, confused, angry, and hurt” by the incident.
“There was nothing she could do with the knife,” he said. “I bet all she could do was hurt herself. The police and the nurses are trained to treat people with dementia, if they can’t do that, why is she there?”
Nowland, a long-standing member of the community, ran charity shops, was a regular churchgoer and cooked meals for the other elderly people through outreach work, Thaler said.
“Clare is one of the ladies who gave more than she got,” he added.
Thaler said her family of eight children and more than 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren knew she was “old and at the end of her life line, but to suddenly have it cut short and ruined in such a way is shocking and confronting.”
“It’s absurd,” he added.
Cotter refused to answer any questions about criminal charges for the officer, but confirmed that he had served 12 years on the force. He added that the officer was “nonoperational at this stage while he is under review.”
“Not one of our officers is above the law, and all our actions will be scrutinized robustly from a criminal and departmental perspective,” he said.
The investigation was nominated a level 1 incident, which classifies injuries that lead to death or imminent death with exceptional circumstances. The classification ensures the highest level of inquiry with the inclusion of a homicide squad.
“Critical incidents are a matter we are always transparent on,” Cotter said.
Two police body cameras captured the incident, forming “a significant and integral part of the investigation,” but it will not be released because “it is not in the public interest,” he added.
The investigation will be ultimately reviewed by the professional standards command of the South Wales Police Force, Cotter said, with oversight by the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission of New South Wales.