Walker inquest told of NT police deception

·3-min read

A terrified Indigenous community was tricked into believing one of their sons was still alive hours after he had been shot dead by Northern Territory police, an inquest has been told.

Constable Zachary Rolfe, 31, shot Kumanjayi Walker, 19, three times about 7.22pm on November 9, 2019 during an attempted arrest in the remote community of Yuendumu, 290km northwest of Alice Springs.

The Warlpiri man died about an hour later on the floor of the local police station, counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer told the hearing on Tuesday.

But the eight officers locked inside didn't tell the more than 100 shocked and fearful community members who had gathered out of concern for their countrymen.

"It was decided, at that point, that it would be too dangerous to tell the community about Kumanjayi having passed," Dr Dwyer said as she detailed evidence the inquest would hear over the next three months.

"This is, of course, an issue of great significance to the community."

Instead, police formed a convoy of vehicles and headed to the airport, deceiving Mr Walker's family and the Yuendumu community into believing he was still alive and being flown to Alice Springs for medical attention.

"We can only imagine the level of anxiety and stress and fear that the community members were experiencing at that stage," Dr Dwyer said.

Mr Walker's cousin Samara Fernandez-Brown watched the vehicles pass, with Dr Dwyer telling the Alice Springs court "it was her sincere belief at the time that Kumanjayi was still alive ... around 10.45pm when the police and that ambulance travelled to the airstrip".

"She did not learn that he had passed away by that stage until a considerable period afterwards and what we now know ... is that police had wanted the community to believe that Kumanjayi was still alive at that time."

Dr Dwyer told coroner Elisabeth Armitage the reasons police created the ruse were not malicious "and at that time that was the best option to avoid any conflict".

She said the police and community members would give evidence about the decision to form the convoy and its impact so they could better understand each other's perspectives on the incident.

Earlier, Dr Dwyer told the hearing the police planning in the lead-up to the shooting would be examined in detail.

"Everyone involved in the briefing in the community, the understanding of what that plan was and the actions taken to be implemented will be called to give evidence," she said.

She said the officers would also be asked if anything could have been done differently to enable a safer arrest plan "to see whether there is anything to be learned".

"The plan that was in place for Kumanjayi and any risk assessment or planning is a central issue in understanding what occurred," Dr Dwyer said.

The inquest heard that expert evidence about the police planning is expected to find it was sloppy despite the high level of risk, with no strategy or clearly defined roles for the officers involved.

"Police will have an opportunity themselves to say whether they agree with the assessment ... and if they don't, why not?"

"The expectation of this court from serving members of the Northern Territory Police Force is that they will rely on their own memories and not others and that they will give honest evidence."

She said the court did not want to blame an individual and the information was sought so it could understand what took place and whether there were lessons to be learned.

"So that this tragedy does not occur again," Dr Dwyer said.

The inquest also heard that Mr Walker had been in and out of youth detention centres and rehabilitation programs since 2014.

This included the Alice Springs and Don Dale youth detention centres, which were the subject of damning evidence during the royal commission into the NT's youth justice system.

"We know that Kumanjayi spent time in both of those detention centres during a period where the royal commission was extremely critical of the treatment of vulnerable children," she said.