NEWS THAT MATTERS

Death by Taser

The tragic death of 95-year-old Cooma woman, Clare Nowland, after being tasered by a NSW Police Officer, as she used her walker to slowly approach him with a steak knife in the kitchen of the aged-care home in which she lived, should never have happened. But perhaps the cop, Kristian White, 33, who was charged for “recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and common assault”, believed that Ms Nowland, who had dementia, was about to put her walker into ‘top gear’, mistaking him for the dinner waiter at the aged-care home, and would be unable to stop her high-powered vehicle in time before inadvertently ‘running-him-through’ with the deadly weapon.

 

But it didn't get any better for police, a little less than a week later on 26 May they shot dead a man allegedly approaching front doors of homes in Sydney’s lower north shore wielding two “chef-style” knives, after reports he was threatening residents.

 

It would seem NSW has a police force out of control, reminiscent of the American wild west and the shoot out at the 'OK Corral', where as long as your wore a 'tin star' you could summarily execute citizens and expect immunity for your actions.

31 May 2023

ALAN HAYES

 

WHEN Police Commissioner Karen Webb addressed the media before the television cameras, over the Clare Nowland tasering incident, it appeared as though she was devoid of any emotion as she closed ranks and made excuses for the monumental failure of the NSW Police Force. Steel-faced, it was difficult to gauge empathy or sympathy from Webb as she said the whole thing has been “traumatic for everyone in the police force” (just imagine what the great-grandmother’s family and friends were going through then) and stressed it was one of 2 million calls for assistance a year.

 

And what did Premier Minns say: “it’s been a tough week for police!” A tough week because police were now facing public and media scrutiny over their actions? Is that the best our new Premier could say about the police's handing of the tasering incident? He did, however, offer what was seen to be heartfelt condolences to the Nowland family.

 

The general public was not concerned about the trauma of 'trigger-happy' police – they were concerned that police were attempting to get away with the tasering of an elderly woman, which ultimately contributed to her death, and sweeping it under the carpet.

 

On Saturday, 20 May Karen Webb provoked fury when said she had no intention to release the body-worn police vision of the incident or even see it herself. When asked had she viewed the body cam of the fateful event, she said that she didn’t need to, she knew what was in it.

 

“I don't really intend to, no,” she told reporters.

 

“I have heard what is in the body worn camera, and I don't see it necessary that I actually view it.”

 

Andrew Thaler, a spokesperson for Ms Nowland's family said that Commissioner Webb has an obligation “to see the footage”.

 

“I don't accept that she doesn't have to, the buck stops with her,” Mr Thaler said.

 

“She can't hide, she has to stand up and take responsibility and ensure that the community and family get answers.

 

“The whole situation is so egregious.”

 

The female sergeant with Senior Constable White allegedly said “I can take it (the knife) off her,” The Daily Telegraph reported.

 

Senior Constable White then allegedly sparked the taser as a warning to Ms Nowland.

 

When that didn’t work, it’s alleged he then said “No, bugger it", and fired the taser.

 

Ms Nowland is said to have fallen backwards and hit her head fracturing her skull.

 

Even though public disgust and media pressure were hanging Karen Webb out to dry, on Monday 22 May she still defended the original police statement where the matter was referred to as an 'interaction' and left out the fact Ms Nowland had been tasered.

 

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb did say however, it was possible the charges against Senior Constable White could be upgraded if circumstances were to change. Well, the circumstances did change but Constable White, although suspended on full pay, is still wandering around at large [without bail] until he faces court on 5 July.

 

According to the Grapevine's barrister source it is unlikely that charges against Constable White will be upgraded to manslaughter or murder. “Police don’t do that,” he said.

 

The biggest problem facing the community is that police investigate their own – they close ranks and the result is invariably watered-down for the benefit of the cop facing his demons.

 

A transparent investigation into the incident is urgently needed, according to former NSW police minister Paul Toole.

 

“This is a confronting situation for everyone involved, and the Police Minister (Yasmin Catley) needs to provide confidence to the public and to the police,” he said.

 

“The incident has raised serious concerns and ignited public outrage, emphasising the critical need for accountability and clarity.”

 

NSW Police Minister Yasmin Catley said, "On behalf of the NSW Government, I would like to express my sincere condolences to the Nowland family for the loss of their dearly loved mother, grandmother and great grandmother, Clare Nowland.

 

"Our sympathies and thoughts are also extended to the community of Cooma, Mrs Nowland’s friends, as well as the residents and carers at Cooma Yallambee Lodge.

 

"We will continue to offer support to the Nowland family as they mourn this loss and we urge people to respect their privacy at this time."

 

And what about Senior Constable Kristian White – shocking details have now emerged about his past. He once unlawfully detained a motorcyclist, with his shift partner allegedly threatening to break the man’s legs, a report claimed.

 

Mr White and a police colleague were previously criticised by a magistrate over their actions during a confrontation with a member of the public, which occurred outside their jurisdiction three years ago.

 

A Canberra court heard the officers suspected Allan Watts, was drug affected and detained him until Australian Federal Police officers arrived at the scene, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

 

Watts was later charged with driving while disqualified and possession of a knife in public.

 

His solicitor argued the NSW officers had gone outside their jurisdiction and did not have the power to detain him or record on their body-worn cameras. The court also heard Senior Constable White's colleague had told Watts they would "break your legs" if he tried to flee.

 

ACT magistrate Bernadette Boss agreed with the defence’s argument and ruled the police body-worn video footage was inadmissible and dismissed the charges.

 

She was scathing of the officers and described their conduct as "outrageous", according to an ABC report from the time.

 

"I'm horrified by the conduct of these officers," Magistrate Boss said.

 

NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb was grilled about this previous incident involving Senior Constable White by Today show host Karl Stefanovic.

 

Webb said, "Part of this investigation around the Mrs Nowland matter will take into account the officer's history."

 

And what about Karen Webb?

 

She is the most senior police officer in NSW and will make the final decision about whether this officer remains in the force. But so far her performance in the public eye appears unsatisfactory – will she kowtow to public disgust and put this officer before the courts appropriately charged? Or will it just be another carnival shell game?

 

Webb heads an elitist organisation who now benefit from a record number of police empowering bills that were rammed through the parliament prior to the last election, six of which don’t serve to protect the public, but rather empower NSW police to be more punitive in its approach, and it gifts them further abilities to pry into all our private lives.

 

Green's MLC Sue Higginson said, “NSW is becoming a police state”.

 

"All NSW residents should be concerned about our eroding civil liberties and how the unintended consequences of poorly thought out and rushed legislation will impact people with no involvement in serious criminal conduct,” Higginson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.

 

One of the largest such organisations in the world, NSW police not only roam the streets with dogs, getting people to strip off but, like the feds, this state’s law enforcement agency is increasingly being empowered to surveil the general populace.

 

Yet the effects of the now “more draconian police state” will be ongoing, which include a larger number of people not under investigation being subjected to police scrutiny.

 

According to the Grapevine’s barrister source, citizens now stand a good chance of being shot by a police officer.

 

Police were called to Alexander Avenue in North Willoughby last Thursday, behind a Harris Farm supermarket and suburban shopping strip, and just before 11.30am shot a man to death.

 

“The two responding officers were allegedly confronted by a man, who was armed with two knives, before a constable discharged his firearm,” a police statement said.

 

The 41-year-old man died at the scene, police said, adding there were no other injuries.

 

Assistant commissioner Leanne McCusker said the 41-year-old lived locally and was known to police, but then said, “I would probably describe that as quite minimal” - a fact disputed by the dead man's family, who claim that he has never been in any trouble with the police.

 

And what is the Minns government doing about the 'wild west' style of policing in NSW? Nothing, except feeling sorry for police having a tough week.

 

The slow drip of draconian laws, which see NSW police granted powers one might expect of intelligence agencies, and new order regimes that have been creeping across our state over the past decade, has escaped the view of many residents, but there have also been many loud voices that are crying out for attention against this authoritarian trend -  but the unfortunate truth about seeing the Coalition finally voted out of office is that Labor has simply waved most of these laws through. And this includes the antidemocratic protest laws, which the NSW Labor conference considered committing to revoking but changed its mind at the last minute.

 

The right to peaceful assembly is a cornerstone of our democracy. Any attempts to curb that right will be seen for what it is, an unconscionable assault on our civil and democratic rights.

 

But the people's voice is falling on government deaf ears - the formation of the violent and militarised police unit Strike Force Guard has been repeatedly condemned by human rights, industrial and civil society organisations as an affront to our democracy.

 

It’s time the police and their actions were held to account – not by the police but by and independent body. It’s time that their  overreaching powers were withdrawn and that police officers realised they are not the law but mere public servants who represent the law an serve the community of NSW.

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