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Australian police use Taser on 95-year-old with dementia who held steak knife

In this image made from video, Clare Nowland reacts following her skydive in Canberra, Australia, April 6, 2008. Nowland, now 95, was in critical condition Friday, May 19, 2023, two days after police shocked her with a stun gun as she approached them with a walking frame and a steak knife in an Australian nursing home. (Australian Broadcasting Corp. via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Police shocked a 95-year-old woman with a stun gun as she approached them with a walking frame and a steak knife in an Australian nursing home, sending her to the hospital.

The extraordinary police takedown of Clare Nowland, who has dementia, in the New South Wales state town of Cooma on Wednesday has prompted a high-level police internal investigation. Nowland was in critical condition Friday.

It has also sparked debate about New South Wales state police use of stun guns, widely known as Tasers after a major manufacturer. They are a less lethal option than firearms, but have occasionally proved more dangerous than other policing options.

Two police officers went to Yallambee Lodge, a nursing home that specializes in residents with higher care needs including dementia, after staff reported that Nowland had taken a serrated steak knife from the kitchen.

Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Cotter declined to say whether he thought a police officer with 12 years experience had used excessive force by firing a stun gun at an elderly woman who stands 1.57 meters (5 foot, 2 inches) tall and weighs 43 kilograms (95 pounds).

Cotter said that police engaged in “negotiations” with the elderly woman for several minutes, and used the stun gun when she approached the doorway where the police were standing.

“At the time she was tasered, she was approaching police. But it is fair to say at a slow pace. She had a walking frame. But she had a knife. I can’t take it any further as to what was going through anyone’s mind,” Cotter told reporters.

Nicole Lee, president of advocacy group People with Disability Australia, said she was shocked by the violence.

“She’s either one hell of an agile, fit, fast and intimidating 95-year-old woman, or there’s a very poor lack of judgement on those police officers and there really needs to be some accountability on their side,” Lee said.

Police said Nowland received her critical injuries from striking her head on the floor, rather than directly from the Taser’s debilitating electric shock.

Cotter described video from the two police officers’ body cameras of Nowland being shot as “confronting footage.” But he said the video was part of an internal police investigation and it would “not be in the public interest to be releasing that.”

Cotter said the police officer who fired the stun gun was currently “not in the workplace,” but it is unclear whether the officer has been suspended.

Nowland, a great-grandmother, made headlines in 2008 when she went skydiving to celebrate her 80th birthday.