Sydney — An elderly Australian woman with dementia is in hospital with life-threatening injuries after being Tasered by police at a care home.
Officers were called to Yallambee Lodge in Cooma, New South Wales (NSW), after reports that 95-year-old Clare Nowland was carrying a knife.
The early morning incident has sparked outcry, over what advocates say was a disproportionate response.
The New South Wales police chief has said an investigation is underway.
Ms Nowland was found “armed” with a steak knife at the care home — which is in the town of Cooma about 114km (71 miles) south of Canberra — in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Cotter told media on friday.
Two officers and care home staff tried to de-escalate the situation before she began approaching police — “it is fair to say at a slow pace” — and was Tasered.
“She had a walking frame. But she had a knife,” he said.
Family friend Andrew Thaler claimed Ms Nowland was struck twice – in the chest and the back – before she fell, suffering a fractured skull and a serious brain bleed.
Her family are already grieving as they do not expect her to survive, he told BBC News.
“The family are shocked, they’re confused… and the community is outraged.”
“How can this happen? How do you explain this level of force? It’s absurd.”
Thaler described Ms. Nowland as being “a great service to the community and her church, very fondly regarded by a lot of people”.
She appeared on TV in 2008 to mark her 80th birthday by skydiving over Canberra.
Community groups, including the NSW Council for Civil Liberties and People with Disability Australia (PwD), have criticized the police response.
“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 [from] those police officers,” PwD President Nicole Lee told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
“She needed someone to… handle her with compassion and time, not Tasers.”
NSW Police has launched a critical incident investigation, which Commissioner Karen Webb said is being treated with “the utmost seriousness”.
“I understand and share the community concerns,” she said.
The officer involved, who is reported to have 12 years’ experience, has not been suspended but has been taken off active duty.
He will be interviewed as part of the investigation, which will involve the homicide squad.
“No officer, not one of us, is above the law,” Cotter said.
“All our actions will be scrutinized robustly from a criminal perspective as well.”
The care home, which is run by the Snowy Monaro Regional Council, has defended its response. The staff followed procedures and did what was needed in the circumstances, the council’s chief operating officer Jeff Morgan told local media.
Yallambee Lodge opened in 1995 and looks after residents with “higher needs”, according to its website.
Ms Nowland has lived at the home for more than five years, ABC reported. BBC