A 95-year-old aged care resident with dementia who was tasered by police last Wednesday has died just an hour after the alleged offending officer was charged.
Clare Nowland died on Tuesday night at Cooma Base Hospital, less than a week after she was allegedly tasered by New South Wales (NSW) Police Senior Constable, Kristian White. She then fell, causing her to sustain fatal head injuries at the Yallambee Lodge aged care facility in the State’s south-east where she lived.
The 33-year-old offending Police Constable – who has 12 years’ experience on the job – was suspended from his position with pay after the incident but was charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault just an hour before Ms Nowland’s death. Charges are now likely to be upgraded as Ms Nowland has died from injuries sustained from the incident.
Senior Constable White and his partner attended the facility when staff called police and paramedics for assistance after finding Ms Nowland with a serrated steak knife in the early hours of Wednesday, May 17. After failing to de-escalate the situation, Ms Nowland walked slowly towards officers with the knife, aided by her walking frame, before the officer deployed his Taser, causing Ms Nowland to fall and hit her head.
NSW Police Commissioner, Karen Webb, hosted a press conference on Tuesday night just before Ms Nowland’s death which confirmed Senior Constable White’s charges and informed the media he is expected to appear at Cooma Local Court on July 5.
The news of the event has shocked communities and aged care experts across the world, flagging concerns about how police tend to cases involving vulnerable people, particularly those with challenging behaviours caused by dementia, and how aged care facilities handle these instances.
Yallambee Lodge has previously come up against non-compliance audits which found the facility was failing to enforce all of the Aged Care Quality Standards such as conducting pain assessments for those with dementia experiencing challenging behaviours and was putting the safety, health or well-being of residents at risk. In 2020, the facility was reaccredited despite being non-compliant in seven out of the eight standards. The accreditation was again reinstated earlier this year.
Aged care expert and manager of a dementia care home, Professor Rodney Jilek, spoke with ABC In-Depth and questioned the integrity of the accreditation and auditing process.
“We can see homes that are audited and pass and then, several months later, they’re audited again and they fail. Then someone comes back and they pass again. It’s a very subjective process that is woefully inconsistent.”
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety final report flagged their concern about how aged care facilities handle residents with dementia and that staff lacked the training to properly handle symptoms and behaviours.
Aged Care Quality and Safety Commissioner, Janet Anderson, released a statement earlier this week that said the Commission was working to “understand the circumstances and events leading up to and surrounding the incident” involving Ms Nowland and NSW Police and is investigating whether Yallambee Lodge abided by their legal obligations.
“If we find that the provider has not met their legal obligations, we will take action to hold them to account. If at any time the Commission identifies an immediate or severe risk to residents living at the service, we will move quickly to ensure that they are safe.”
Former NSW Police Detective, Peter Moroney, appeared on breakfast television show, Sunrise, this morning and said Ms Nowland’s family deserves answers to how and why the incident occurred.
He said that as a former policeman, “the queries in my mind were that she is 95, she was on a walking frame, and were there alternative options that could have been done?” he said.
“It’s hard to comment but as a father and particularly a son, for the family it would be devastating what’s been done. They’ve been wanting answers and they deserve answers too.”
Aged Care Minister, Anika Wells, took to Twitter to express her condolences to Ms Nowland’s loved ones and the residents at Yallambee Lodge who are feeling her loss.
“Her passing is deeply upsetting. It is of the utmost importance now that we respect the family’s privacy during this painful time,” she wrote.
Ms Nowland – a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – was a loved member of the Cooma community who was active in the local church and charity organisations.
Local priest, Father Mark Kroker, said the grim news of Ms Nowland’s death is “an awful way to finish what’s been a great life”.