Criminal Law

By Carley Hitchins


Yet another disgraceful display of Policing

If you haven’t been living under a rock this past week you too would have been horrified to learn that a 95-year-old woman, Clare Nowland, suffering from dementia, was tasered by Senior Constable Kristian White of the NSW Police after being found with a steak knife, while using a walking frame at an aged care facility in Cooma last Wednesday morning.

After being tasered, Ms Nowland fell and struck her head on the floor, causing a fractured skull. She died from those injuries on Wednesday night.

Mr White is currently charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault and recklessly causing grievous bodily harm in relation to the incident. He has been stood down with pay.  It is unclear at this stage whether Mr White will be charged with manslaughter in light of Ms Nowland’s death.

The incident has understandably left the community wondering how on earth this police officer assessed the situation and thought the use of his taser was an appropriate choice. He could have thrown a blanket or pillow on her or used quite literally any other object or tactic to diffuse the situation. He could have employed one of the many tactics he is taught in his yearly de-escalation training. I can’t be persuaded no matter which way you cut it that Mr White thought the threat to his safety was so great that he was required to use ANY weapon, let alone a taser.

This isn’t the first time that the NSW Police Force has attracted universal condemnation for their misuse of tasers.  In 2012, Roberto Curti, a Brazilian student, died in Sydney after he was tasered 14 times by NSW police when he stole a packet of biscuits during an LSD-induced psychosis. Police chased him down and shot multiple probes of up to 50,000 volts into his body.

Mr Curti’s death, at that time, caused public outcry and calls for better police training. At a coronial inquest into the death of Mr Curti, recommendations were made that police standards be reviewed in terms of the use of tasers and other weapons.

Following the coronial inquest, protocols were tightened, and NSW Police officers were told not to deploy tasers on the elderly, the disabled or anyone who was lightweight or at risk of serious injury if they fell. Ms Nowland basically fits every category of person who should not be tasered.  So what happened here?

Tell me how a group of civilians chased down Mert Ney after he brutally murdered Michaela Dunn and performed a citizens’ arrest with a milk crate and a chair in the Sydney CBD in 2019, but this “Senior Constable” with 12 years’ experience can’t de-escalate a 43 kilogram, 160cm tall great grandmother who required a walking frame.  Both were ‘armed’ with knives.

Whether Mr White is charged with manslaughter is a matter to be investigated, but this incident highlights a scenario I see all too often, which is police attending mental health crises (which is what this was) with inadequate training and weapons all too accessible. Clearly whatever new training initiatives were implemented in the wake of Mr Curti’s death are inadequate and require further review.

Clare Nowland, 95, passed away on Wednesday after being tasered by police officer