The NSW Police Commissioner has come under fire from a former magistrate for choosing not to release, let alone watch, bodycam footage of an elderly nursing home resident being tasered by police.
Senior Constable Kristin White, 33, used force against 95-year-old Yallambie Lodge resident Clare Nowland last Wednesday, when she refused to drop a steak knife she had in her possession.
It’s alleged he tasered Ms Nowland, who weighs just 45kg and suffers from dementia, as she “slowly” approached the officer with the aid of her walker.
The grandmother is now receiving end-of-life care, after she fell to the floor and hit her head during the incident.
Clare Nowland was tasered by police at an aged care home in Cooma. Picture: Supplied
Senior Constable White has since been suspended with pay as an investigation into the incident by the homicide squad continues.
Following news of the incident, the public has appealed for the police force to publicly release footage of the incident caught on the responding officers’ body cameras.
However, the state’s Police Commissioner Karen Webb has refused the request, revealing she is yet to watch the footage herself and won’t view it until “all the evidence comes before (her)”.
Now David Heilpern, the dean of law at Southern Cross University, has come forward to slam Ms Webb for doubling down on her decision to withhold video from the public, despite over 15,000 Australians signing a Change. Org petition to see footage of the incident.
He claimed the community has a right to view the video, arguing the footage is no different to police releasing body cam recordings of a raid or arrest for television broadcasts.
‘Every night on the news when the police do a raid on an organised criminal, there’s a supplied police video broadcast and you can bet your bottom dollar those people depicted in their undies being dragged out of their homes have not given consent for those videos to be shown,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Former magistrate David Heilpern has criticised Ms Webb’s decision to not release video of the incident. Picture Glenn Hampson
Mr Heilpern added he can’t understand why police “all of a sudden” have decided to not release the video.
“I’ve looked at the law and I really think police need to be asked – what’s the difference?” he said.
“There seems to be a very different standard applied to this case.”
Ultimately, the former lawyer who was the youngest magistrate in Australia when he was appointed in 1998 before retiring in 2020, said there would be no legal barriers preventing the release of the video in the tragic case Ms Nowland passed away.
“I think the video should be released. There’s no reason that I can see as to a difference between videos being shared of perpetrators and this type of video,” he added.
“It’s a public safety issue, people are concerned and they’re concerned for their own family members.”
Mr Heilpern’s criticism of Ms Webb comes less than a day after she was grilled by breakfast program Today host Karl Stefanovic over the handling of the incident.
Asked if there was any other way officers could have handled the confrontation, Ms Webb told Stefanovic: “We don’t know that”.
“We don’t know why the aged-care facility called police in the first place.
“Police officers are trained in a number of tactical options to use the least amount of force.
“Until we actually understand why, we won’t really know,” she said.
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb is yet to see the video herself. Picture: NewsWire/ Monique Harmer
Ms Webb’s choice to not view the video was also brought into question by Stefanovic.
“People can’t reconcile the fact that you haven’t looked at this video. They just can’t fathom why you wouldn’t have,” Stefanovic said.
In reply, Ms Webb said: “As a decision maker, I may watch this video when all the evidence comes before me.
“But, by watching that video now won‘t make the investigation go faster.
“I need these detectives who are the best in NSW to work through this methodically, follow a process and then I’ll review it as a whole.”
Ms Webb said the local police commander was told by the family they did not want the video to be released at the moment.
Nonetheless, she admitted she understood criticism around her decision to not watch the video, and it potentially poorly portrayed police.
“It (the video) may not look good at all,” Ms Webb said.
“We need to work through the facts and not speculate.”
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An investigation into the incident remains ongoing. It’s unclear when the findings will be delivered.
– With Nathan Schmidt