NT police shooting response 'racist'

·3-min read

The cousin of an Indigenous teenager shot dead by a Northern Territory constable has told an inquest that racism drove the police response to the incident.

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

As he lay dying on the floor of the local police station, the Warlpiri community gathered to find out if he was OK, his cousin Samara Fernandez-Brown told the inquest into his death on Wednesday.

Videos of the night played at the Alice Springs hearing show about 100 people waiting for news outside the building, frustrated by the lack of information provided by police.

"We don't know what's happening, we got told he's been shot and he's bleeding and at the house there's three cases, gun shells and a lot of blood," Ms Fernandez-Brown says in the recording.

"No one's told us if he's alive."

The court heard his family and community elders repeatedly asked the eight police officers inside the station for information in the hours after Mr Waker was shot at 7.22pm at his grandmother's house. But they were told nothing, with most not learning he had died until the next day.

Asked about the police handling of the incident, Ms Fernandez-Brown said it was evidence of systemic racism in the force.

"It is a common theme in the conversations I've had (in the community) that if this was a kartiya, or a white person, the treatment would be vastly different," she said.

"Nobody deserves what he had in his last moments."

Inside the station police fought to save Mr Walker's life in the absence of trained medical staff who had fled the community earlier in the day after a series of break-ins at the clinic.

Mr Walker died at 8.36pm but police said nothing to the community and instead formed a plan to trick them into believing he was still alive out of fear for their own safety.

Outside, the Yuendumu community was also afraid - that the police they had seen patrolling their community with a shotgun and an AR15 assault rifle earlier in the evening may shoot another community member.

"By that point, we were already angry and distressed ... There was this feeling of being disregarded and disrespected," Ms Fernandez-Brown said.

"If there was a reaction it could have prompted another shooting.

"We were genuinely quite scared for our own safety."

At 10.45pm police formed convoy of vehicles and sped to the airport to meet a plane.

But it was bringing in police reinforcements and evacuating Const Rolfe, not flying Mr Walker to hospital as his family thought.

"It was my genuine belief that he was being flown to Alice Springs ... that he was being treated ... and that he would survive.," Ms Fernandez-Brown said.

At 4.50am next day police told an elder Mr Walker was dead. The news reached Ms Fernandez-Brown later in the morning as tactical response group officers wearing camouflage uniforms patrolled the streets.

Videos played for the court show the immense impact Mr Walker's death had on the Warlpiri community. Dozens of people can be seen wailing as they mourned his loss.

Mr Walker's uncle Derek Williams, who is an Aboriginal community police officer and worked throughtout the night to keep people calm, also learned his nephew had died the next day.

"I felt betrayed by my own colleagues and the police force," he said when asked how he felt about the police deception.

Asked about Const Rolfe's team bringing high-powered weapons to arrest Mr Walker, he said he had worried Yuendumu was about to become a "war zone" before the shooting.

"It's only a little community. We are not fighting terrorists," he said.

The hearing continues on Thursday.