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Clare Nowland Dies, Australian Police Say, Hours After Announcing Charges for Officer

A 95-year-old Australian woman whom a police officer in Australia used a stun gun on last week has died in a hospital, the authorities said on Wednesday, not long after announcing charges against the officer, who used the stun gun to repel her when she approached him while holding a steak knife.

The case provoked outrage around Australia as circumstances of the confrontation between the woman, Clare Nowland, and the police officer emerged. Ms. Nowland, who had dementia, used a walker and weighed 95 pounds, fell and fractured her skull after a senior constable used the stun gun on her in the care facility where she lived.

The police confirmed her death in a statement on social media. “Mrs. Nowland passed away peacefully in hospital just after 7 p.m. this evening, surrounded by family and loved ones who have requested privacy during this sad and difficult time,” a spokesperson for the New South Wales police force said.

A few hours before her death, the police said that Kristian White, 33, the officer who used the weapon, would be charged with recklessly causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and common assault. Mr. White, who has 12 years’ experience as a police officer, is expected to appear in court on July 5. He has been suspended from work with pay while the investigation continues.

The police came to the Yallambee Lodge aged care facility where Ms. Nowland lived early on May 17 because of a report about a resident with a knife, according to Peter Cotter, the New South Wales Police assistant commissioner.

Ms. Nowland, a great-grandmother, was “armed” with a “serrated-edge” steak knife that she had obtained from the kitchen, Mr. Cotter said at a news conference last week. He added that attempts to negotiate with her had been unsuccessful. “For whatever reason,” he said, “Clare did not drop the knife.”

Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday before Ms. Nowland’s death, Police Commissioner Karen Webb said that the episode had also been “traumatic” for other officers.

“The community of New South Wales have trust in their police force,” she added. “This is one incident out of many, many calls for service, out of two million calls for service every year that we respond to, for all sorts of things.”

Mr. White has not been charged with murder or manslaughter, and the commissioner said it was possible that his charges could be adjusted. “It depends on what happens,” she said.

The episode, which was caught on a body camera, has drawn condemnation from many in Australia, particularly among rights activists and advocates for the disabled, who have questioned whether the officer responded appropriately to the situation. Official guidelines for the New South Wales police say that stun guns should not be used on older or disabled people “unless exceptional circumstances exist.”

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