Fear after cop shot NT teen, inquest told

·3-min read

The family of an Indigenous teenager killed by a Northern Territory policeman have told an inquest into his death about the fear and terror they felt the night he was shot.

Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died on November 9, 2019, after Constable Zachary Rolfe, 31, shot him three times in Yuendumu, 290km northwest of Alice Springs.

His cousin, Samara Fernandez-Brown, told the Alice Springs hearing on Monday that her family were afraid and hurting in the hours after the shooting.

"His family gathered only metres away from him, yet we were all robbed of the opportunity to say goodbye," she said in reference to her cousin dying behind a locked door on the floor inside Yuendumu police station.

She said the community "pleaded for answers (and) begged for the smallest of information".

"In the dark, we waited ... We got nothing," she said.

"Kumanjayi died ... I'd imagine he was in pain. He was scared and he was robbed of comfort."

Warlpiri elder Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves was also in Yuendumu the night Mr Walker was killed.

"There was a loud bang ... of a gun," he said.

"We had to gather all our children and protect them and later we went to the police station and ... we asked the question: 'Is he alive'?" he said.

"There was no answer ... we were terrified (and) the whole community shattered ... completely terrified."

Another elder Robin Granites said although Mr Walker died almost three years ago "it feels like it happened yesterday.

"We will never be able to understand the feeling of hopelessness, fear and hurt that we carry because of this injustice," he said.

"The pain we feel is real ... We fight for Kumanjayi and we will never stop fighting for justice."

He pleaded with coroner Elisabeth Armitage to listen to the Yuendumu community's voices.

"We are here to speak the truth ... We need to be part of the outcome," he said.

Ms Armitage acknowledged the suffering Mr Walker's family and the Warlpiri community had experienced, and asked people involved in the inquest to keep an open mind.

"At the start of this inquest I ask myself this question: Do I know the story of Kumanjayi Walker and Constable Zachary Rolfe? Do you?" she said in her opening.

"I am inviting everyone to look a little deeper and listen a little longer because I think there is more to learn from and more we need to try and understand about this story."

Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer said Mr Walker's death needed to be viewed within the context of Australian history.

"That's a history that includes colonisation, dispossession of First Nations people and ill-fated policies," she said during her opening remarks.

"The law has not always been applied equally to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians ... It has often caused hardship to First Nations people."

The inquest heard Mr Walker suffered an intellectual disability, was partially deaf and struggled at school having grown up around domestic violence.

He also exhibited symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder and had spent about half of his life since age 14 under some from of legal restraint for property crimes and breaches of bail or court orders.

Dr Dwyer said this evidence "was not being called to demonise or shame Kumanjayi".

"On the contrary, it is called in order to understand his experiences and what led him to having contact with police," she said.

The three-month hearing will explore 54 issues related to Mr Walker's death, including the actions of police before and after he was shot and how it has affected his community.

It will also probe whether Mr Walker received adequate medical treatment after Const Rolfe fired into his torso from close range as the pair and another officer scuffled inside the teen's grandmother's home.

The teen had stabbed the officer, since acquitted at trial of murder, in the moments before he was shot and died about an hour after Const Rolfe's second shot ripped through his spleen, lung, liver and a kidney.