NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb’s handling of the Tasering by one of her officers of 95-year-old Clare Nowland in a Cooma nursing home has been met with widespread backlash.
Webb has repeatedly refused to review footage of one of her officers Tasering a woman three times his age and a third of his size, describing calls to do so as ‘expectations from lounge chair critics’.
These are the main points about that received criticism about how police handled the case.
1. The media release
Commissioner Karen Webb stood by her decision to approve the initial police media release that omitted the fact that Clare Nowland was Tasered by an officer.
The initial media release stated that the 95-year-old ‘sustained injuries during an interaction with police at an aged care facility in the state’s south today in a nursing home’.
Webb said in her defence: ‘Mrs Nowland has a large family and we didn’t want that family to hear on radio or on TV what had happened to their mum, and so we had to be sensitive to that and when we were able to talk about it we did’.
She strongly denied police had wanted to obscure the nature of what had happened, and said police needed time to speak with family about the ‘unusual’ incident and that she ‘absolutely ‘ stood by its wording.
2. The bodycam
Webb repeatedly refused calls to watch police bodycam footage of the Tasering herself, claiming it would derail the investigation into police officers, even as they had yet to be charged.
This was despite her Assistant Commissioner Peter Cotter watching the footage, describing it as ‘confronting’ and detailing what it showed: Mrs Nowland in a small treatment room slowly approaching police on a walking frame, holding a serrated edged knife.
The footage is expected to show 188cm tall, 140kg Senior Constable Kristian White firing his Taser into the chest of 157cm tall (five foot two), 43kg Mrs Nowland causing her to fall to the ground and hit her head.
When asked why she hadn’t viewed footage of the incident which had ‘shocked the country, shocked the world’, Webb said: ‘Whether I watch the video or not is not going to make this investigation go any quicker’.
3. Speaking to the officer
Webb claimed she would not get closer to the case claiming she did not want to ‘taint’ the investigation, thus distancing herself from one of the NSW Police force’s greatest controversies.
‘It was about ensuring I didn’t prejudice an investigation around the officer,’ she said, although the officer was not charged until Clare Nowland passed away.
The officer is also said to be under mental health care supervision since the critical incident.
Asked on Seven’s Sunrise, just hours before Mrs Nowland died and Kristian White was charged, whether she had spoken with him, Webb admitted she still hadn’t.
‘No, he is currently not in the workplace. I will probably speak to him at some point,’ she said.
4. Wording of police statement
NSW Police took to social media within hours of Clare Nowland’s death, on the evening of May 24, to report her passing.
Again the wording of the notice was questionable, saying Mrs Nowland passed away ‘peacefully’ and that she was ‘surrounded by family and loved ones who have requested privacy’.