- By Tiffanie Turnbull and Tom Housden
- BBC News, 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 following reports that 95-year-old Clare Nowland was carrying a knife.
The early morning incident has sparked an outcry over what advocates say was a disproportionate response.
The New South Wales (NSW) police chief has said she shares the community’s concerns and an investigation is underway.
Ms Nowland was found in her room “armed” with a steak knife in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Cotter told media on Friday.
Both officers and nursing home staff tried to de-escalate the situation before she started approaching the police – “it’s fair to say at a slow pace” – and was taken in.
“She had a walker. But she had a knife,” he said.
Family friend Andrew Thaler claimed Mrs Nowland was punched twice – in the chest and back – before she fell with a fractured skull and a serious brain bleed.
Her family is already grieving as they do not expect her to survive, he told the BBC.
“The family is shocked, they are confused… and the community is outraged.”
“How can that happen? How do you explain this level of power? It’s absurd.”
Community groups, including the NSW Council for Civil Liberties and People with Disability Australia (PwD), have criticized the police response.
“She is either an agile, fit, fast and terrifying 95-year-old woman, or there is a very poor lack of judgment [from] these police officers,” PwD president Nicole Lee told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
“She needed someone to… deal with her with compassion and time, and not Tasers.”
NSW Police have launched a critical incident investigation, which Commissioner Karen Webb said is being treated with the “utmost seriousness”.
“I understand and share the concerns of the community,” she said.
The officer involved has not been suspended but will be questioned as part of the investigation, which will include the homicide squad.
“No officer, not one of us, is above the law,” Mr Cotter said.
“All our actions will also be thoroughly scrutinized from a criminal perspective.”
The care home, which is run by the Snowy Monaro Regional Council, has defended its response. Staff followed procedures and did what was necessary in the circumstances, council chief operating officer Jeff Morgan told local media.
Yallambee Lodge opened in 1995 and caters to residents with “higher needs”, according to its website.
Ms Nowland has lived in the home for more than five years, the ABC reported.
The great-grandmother is well known locally and appeared on TV in 2008 to mark her 80th birthday by shooting down over Canberra.