A 95-year-old Australian woman who was Tasered by a police officer died Wednesday, a week after law enforcement responded to her nursing home on reports that she was armed with a knife.
“Our thoughts and condolences remain with those who were lucky enough to know, love, and be loved by Mrs. Nowland during a life she led hallmarked by family, kindness and community,” NSW police said in a statement Wednesday.
The officer who allegedly used the Taser, a 33-year-old senior constable, has been charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault, NSW police said in a statement. He has been suspended from duty with pay during an internal investigation, which is being overseen by the state’s Law Enforcement Conduct Commission.
The incident prompted outrage from Nowland’s family and friends and from Australian civil liberties advocates, who called for an investigation into police use of force. NSW police have faced other allegations of excessive force in recent years, including against a 14-year-old Indigenous boy who reported being “slammed on his head” and a 78-year-old man who was thrown to the ground and handcuffed.
Two officers who responded to the Cooma nursing home found Nowland, who was 5-foot-2 and 95 pounds, in a treatment room with a serrated-edge steak knife that she had gotten from the facility’s kitchen, police previously said. The officers spent several minutes trying to convince her to drop the knife, but she did not, police said.
At one point, they said, Nowland walked “at a slow pace” toward the door where police were standing. An officer then allegedly used his Taser, which struck Nowland.
Although the officers were wearing body cameras that were activated during the incident, the NSW has refused to release the video.
Officers carry Tasers to defend themselves if they believe their life or someone else’s life is in danger, fear being physically overpowered or experience a violent confrontation, NSW assistant police commissioner Peter Cotter said in a news conference Friday.
“But of course,” he said, “those facts have to be real.”
Nowland left behind eight children, 24 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and four other great-grandchildren expected this year. She enjoyed golfing and was “very community-minded,” NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb told reporters.
Webb acknowledged that the family “will want answers” about the officers’ response to the nursing home.
“As do I, and as does the community,” Webb said. “But they will come in time, and we will work through those answers as they become clearer.”