The New South Wales police officer who fatally tasered 95-year old grandmother, Clare Nowland, has faced Cooma Local Court, where the presiding magistrate expressed “absolute disgust” for the fact the officer, 33-year old senior constable Kristian White, was allowed to appear remotely via audio visual link rather than in person.
Suspended on full pay
Officer White is currently suspended from the New South Wales Police Force on full pay, after discharging his taser at the great grandmother, who weighed just 45 kilograms, was using a walking frame and suffered from dementia at the time, later dying in hospital as a result of fracturing her skull when she collapsed after being struck.
He was charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault over his actions and, despite the mother-of-eight subsequently passing away in hospital, the charges have not been upgraded to a homicide such as manslaughter.
Allowed to appear via audio visual link
To the “absolute disgust” of presiding magistrate Roger Clisdell, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions agreed to officer White appearing in court yesterday via audio visual link, rather than in person.
His Honour was particularly annoyed that he had no prior warning of the arrangement, and that the court had therefore engaged additional security staff “at considerable expense” in anticipation of a personal attendance.
“Who runs this court, Ms Stuart? You or me?”, he asked the DPP solicitor prosecuting the case.
And the surprises kept coming, including the fact officer White had no bail conditions imposed upon him after he was arrested, despite the seriousness of the charges.
Prosecutor Stuart told the court the decision not to impose conditions on Mr White’s bail was made by police, before conceding conditions should have been imposed.
She then made an application for the officer to attend the court in person on the next occasion, to which his Honour angrily responded:
“You excused him today, so why should I put him at your beck and call and not mine?”.
‘Public Interest and Safety’
Officer White, and another officer were called to aged care home about 4.15am after staff found Mrs Nowland holding a steak knife.Police allege the 95-year old was using her walking frame to slowly approach the officers with the knife in her hand, despite repeated requests for her to drop it.
Mr White allegedly replied “bugger it”, and discharged his weapon into the chest of the slightly built elderly woman.
Mrs Nowland fell backwards and hit her head, fracturing her skull. She died in Cooma Hospital a week later surrounded by her loved ones.
The footage of the tragic incident captured on a body worn camera has been described as “confronting”. According to Snowy-Monaro Regional Council, which runs the facility, staff followed protocol when they called police. Paramedics were also reportedly in attendance.
The facts surrounding the events, which occurred at the Yallambee Lodge nursing home on 17 May were heavily redacted in documents tendered to the court, “likely for public interest and safety reasons”.
Threats and vigilante justice
The Magistrate referred to “threats” made against witnesses, but in addition to concerns about vigilantes seeking justice, there will also likely be significant concern about the involvement of the media.
We’ve all seen in recent times how extensive media coverage can impact a trial, despite how curious we might be for information that can answer the question why police officers, in the presence of paramedics and trained nursing care staff, felt they had no other option but to use a taser on an elderly woman, and eager the media may be to report on that.
To say there has been a lot of interest in the case, would be an understatement. Not just because perhaps a world where police taser elderly people is not something many of us want to live in, or because we’re increasingly concerned that police are overusing force in many instances that could be dealt with in other ways, without accountability, but also because Clare Nowland could have been anyone’s grandmother. Yours or mine.
Clare Nowland’s family had entrusted her care, health and happiness in a home for dementia patients, where they believed she was safe. By any measure this is a horrific ending to a life.
Police Chief slammed
There has also been a lot of criticism about the way the incident has been handled by New South Wales Police including confusing original police statements which did not mention the taser, the delay in NSW’s Police Chief, Karen Webb facing the community, and also her decision not to view the footage from body camera footage.
There are also questions about whether Mr White breached NSW Police protocols in tasering an elderly woman in the chest.
But for the justice process to take its course unimpeded, we need to be patient.
In the meantime, the nursing home is conducting its own investigation, as is New South Wales Police.
The result of the internal investigation may mean that Mr White faces upgraded charges before the case is due back in court later this year.