The use of a taser on a 95-year-old woman in an aged care home, in an incident that left her fighting for life, could be in breach of police rules.
Officers were called to Yallambee Lodge aged care home in Cooma about 4.15am on Wednesday after resident Clare Nowland, who has dementia, was found by staff holding a steak knife.
Police allege she was still armed with the knife when they arrived at the aged care facility.
After officers failed to get her to drop the knife, an experienced officer discharged a taser, causing Ms Nowland to fall and hit her head. She is now “in and out of consciousness”, with her family by her side in hospital.
At the time the taser was fired she was approaching officers, using her walking frame and moving at a “slow pace”, police said.
According to the NSW Police Force’s handbook on taser use, the device should not be used on elderly or disabled people “unless exceptional circumstances exist”.
The handbook describes exceptional circumstances as those “that would cause a reasonable person to believe that prompt and unusual action is necessary to prevent actual bodily harm to self or others”.
If a taser is discharged under “exceptional circumstances”, these must be outlined in the officer’s report of the incident, which will be reviewed as part of the police investigation into the officer’s actions.
The homicide squad have been brought in to assist in the probe and what has been described as “confronting” bodycam footage of the incident will be reviewed.
The officer who discharged the taser has been stood down from duties while the investigation is underway.
On Friday, NSW Police assistant commissioner Peter Cotter stressed the investigation into the incident was being taken seriously, but declined on multiple occasions to answer questions over whether the senior officer who discharged the taser would face charges over the incident.
“I am not the investigator, I’m not in the position to talk about whether this officer will or will not face criminal charges,” he said.
Towards the end of the press conference, Mr Cotter was asked: “What are the potential charges the officer could face?”
“I’m not going to answer that,” he responded. Mr Cotter then thanked the journalist for raising the question but cautioned her against continuing to ask.
“I know where you’re going with it, but in absolute fairness to everyone involved here, I’m not going to talk about this specific officer and any criminal charges,” he said.
“Let me just soften that one for you. But, please, don’t ask it again. I think I’m clear on it.”
Mr Cotter told reporters the homicide squad, along with the critical incident team, were involved in the investigation of the matter.
“What I can say is that this is a very alive and serious investigation … which the homicide squad is investigating,” he said on Friday.
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said in a statement on Friday the matter was being treated with the “utmost seriousness”.
“My thoughts are with the family at this difficult time.”