An Australian police officer has been charged with manslaughter in the death of a 95-year-old woman who was Tasered after authorities were called to her nursing home on reports that she was armed with a knife.
Clare Nowland, who had dementia, fell to the floor and hit her head after being shocked with the Taser during the May 17 encounter in a nursing home in Cooma, a small town about 250 miles south of Sydney. She died a week later.
New South Wales police said in a statement Wednesday that the charges against a 33-year-old senior constable who allegedly Tasered her had been upgraded on the advice of public prosecutors. Previously, he was facing charges of recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault.
The senior constable, Kristian White, and another officer allegedly found Nowland alone in a treatment room with a serrated-edge steak knife. The officers spent several minutes trying to persuade her to drop the knife, but she did not, police said. When Nowland, who was 5-foot-2, 95 pounds and used a walker, began slowly approaching them, the officer allegedly used his Taser on her.
The incident brought an outcry from Nowland’s family, the tight-knit rural community and Australian civil liberties advocates, who called for an investigation in to police use of force, the Washington Post reported previously.
Under official police guidelines, a Taser should not be used against the elderly or disabled, unless “exceptional circumstances exist.” There is body-camera footage of the incident, but police have previously said that it will not be released to the public.
A once-gregarious character who celebrated her 75th birthday by climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and her 80th birthday skydiving, Nowland is described in court documents as “frail.”
White is due to appear in court on Dec. 6. At a previous court appearance, the tall, solidly built officer – who has been suspended from active duties – stood silently as local media questioned him about whether his use of force was excessive, as prosecutors have alleged.
Warwick Anderson, a solicitor acting for the police officer, said by email that although “the fresh charges are concerning,” he would “continue to defend the matter.”
Australian law enforcement authorities have faced allegations of brutality before. A Sydney police constable was charged with assault after footage surfaced in 2021 showing the officer tripping a 16-year-old Indigenous boy and slamming him face-first into bricks while arresting him. A White Australian police officer was last year acquitted in the killing of an Aboriginal teen, in a case that gripped the country.
Nowland is survived by eight children, 24 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.