Police Officer Faces Assault Charges for Fatally Tasering 95-Year Old Woman

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The New South Wales Police Officer who tasered 95-year old Clare Nowland in an aged care nursing home, has been charged. 

Treated like a criminal 

Ms Nowland passed away from her injuries on Wednesday night. She was tasered while approaching officers very slowly using her walking frame, with a steak knife in her hand. 

Ms Nowland, who suffered dementia, was walking around the residential aged care facility where she lived in the early hours of Wednesday 17 March, holding a knife. Staff called police after they failed to negotiate with her to drop the knife in her possession. Police and paramedics also failed to get her to relinquish the knife, and a NSW Police officer tasered Ms Nowland, causing her to fall. She sustained head injuries and has been fighting for her life in hospital for several days. 

After the incident, tributes appeared all over the media describing Ms Nowland as a loving, caring mother and grandmother, who was community-minded. And there has been much anger circulating on social media over the incident, describing this horrific end of life – of the kind that no one should have had to endure. 

NSW Police is struggling to placate the public 

The vitriol towards NSW Police across all platforms has been so prolific that NSW Police Chief Karen Webb has pleaded with the public not to ‘turn on police’. 

Many people are asking, if not the police, then who else? Who is to blame? 

Currently there is also widespread concern that police will be investigating themselves over the incident – a process that is flawed because it has never been truly independent. 

Additionally, Ms Webb has raised the ire of the general public by her handling of the incident – not holding a press conference until four days after the incident, as well as saying that she will not watch footage of the tasering incident, and nor will it be released to the public. 

Many people believe this is a ‘cop out’ – as the person in charge of the NSW Police Force, Ms Webb needs to watch the footage, no matter how confronting, to see what occurred and why one of her officers felt so threatened that he believed the only option available to him in the moment was to taser a frail elderly woman. 

The ongoing issue of ‘excessive force.’

Aggressive arrests and excessive force used by NSW Police have been making headlines for some time – and there have long been calls for change which have gone unheeded. And the NSW public has had enough.  

In the past week or so NSW Police has had to defend the actions of a number of officers – over the actions that caused Clare Nowland’s death, as well as the case of 81-year old Rachel Grahame who was brutally restrained by police in a different incident at St Basil’s aged care home in Randwick in Sydney in October 2020. 

After her treatment by NSW police officers Ms Grahame spent six weeks in hospital. Her family says that she still has not fully recovered emotionally. 

An officer who injured a teenage Indigenous boy by sweeping his legs from under him during an arrest has been found guilty of assault in recent days, and currently the Law Enforcement Conduct commission is currently hosting hearing as it investigates the use of excessive force in another case involving a 14-year old indigenous boy who was left with a head injury after interacting with police officers. 

It is painstakingly obvious that too many people who come into contact with police, for whatever reason, end up sustaining serious injuries. And that is not acceptable, particularly when those people have not committed any crimes. 

Officer charged

The officer who allegedly tasered Ms Nowland is Senior Constable Kristian White. He has been formally charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault.

Common Assault is an offence under section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 which carries a maximum penalty of 2 years in prison and/or a fine of $5,500. 

It can involve any unauthorised touching or any action that causes another person to fear immediate and unlawful personal violence.

Assault occasioning actual bodily harm attracts a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment, or 7 years if committed in company.

The most serious charge, recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. 

He will appear in Cooma Local Court in early July. He remains suspended from duty, although is still on the NSW Police payroll. 

He is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. 

Police investigations into the incident are continuing and, according to the NSW Police Commissioner, charges laid against Kristian White could actually be upgraded, now that Ms Nowland has died.  

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About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer and magazine journalist with an interest in social justice, and a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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