Cop knew Kumanjayi Walker as a 'runner'

·3-min read

A Northern Territory community police officer had no fears Kumanjayi Walker would go around "chopping people up" after the teenager brandished an axe in the days before his fatal shooting, an inquest has been told.

Giving evidence on Monday, Yuendumu officer Sergeant Lanyon Smith said he knew Mr Walker to be "a runner" and didn't feel he was a risk to the safety of police and other members of the remote community.

While another officer said young Aboriginal men sometimes took up weapons as a show of force, without any real intention of using them.

Sergeant Christopher Hand said on the occasions he had been confronted by weapons, including spears, he believed it was an attempt by the offenders to show they were tough men.

"Brandishing a weapon is their way of saying that to you and also showing their family that they're tough," Sgt Hand said.

"I knew that they didn't want to hurt me."

Recounting details of the failed attempt to arrest Mr Walker just before the fatal shooting, Sgt Smith said despite the use of the axe, he didn't consider him a serious threat.

"I did not have concerns that he was going to go around the community chopping people up with the axe," he told the inquiry.

"I did not have concerns that he was going to do anything other than run."

Sgt Smith said at the time he did not know there was an imminent funeral in the community and that family members wanted the 19-year-old to attend.

Had he known of the funeral, and even if the arrest had been successful, he would have recommended the teenager be granted bail.

He agreed that understanding the importance of funerals and sorry business to Aboriginal communities would be valuable information for police officers to know.

He said it would be useful to have a system where families were encouraged to advise police of such upcoming events so that the information could be sent out as alerts to all officers.

In other evidence, Sgt Smith told the inquest that he had never needed to draw his gun or his Taser while working in remote communities.

But he said he would continue to carry a gun as it was a requirement of police regulations

He said the presence of guns in remote communities also meant police should be armed.

"If a community member has a gun, we need to have guns as well," he said.

Sgt Smith said he was aware of a view within Yuendumu that police not carry guns but rejected the idea of an inquiry to examine the merits of such a proposal.

He also agreed with a suggestion from coroner Elisabeth Armitage that just wearing a gun acted as a deterrent to some.

"Yes it does. It's like wearing the uniform. That deters 90 per cent I would say," he said.

The inquest in Alice Springs is exploring 54 issues related to the life of Mr Walker and the actions of police before and after he was killed.

The Warlpiri man died after Constable Zachary Rolfe shot him three times during an arrest attempt in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, in November 2019.

Const Rolfe was later charged with murder but acquitted of all charges after a Supreme Court trial.

The inquiry will resume on Tuesday.