Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Collard

Kumanjayi Walker inquest: officer says police feared ‘cultural payback’ if community knew of death

Kumanjayi Walker
An inquest is under way into the police shooting death of Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker in the remote Northern Territory community of Yuendumu in 2019. Photograph: supplied by his family

A senior officer has told an inquest into the shooting death of Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker that the community of Yuendumu was initially not told he died because police feared “cultural payback”.

Walker was shot three times by Northern Territory police Const Zachary Rolfe during an attempted arrest in the remote NT community of Yuendumu in November 2019.

Rolfe was found not guilty of murder and two alternative charges after a six-week trial in the NT supreme court in Darwin earlier this year.

A three-month inquest is examining the events surrounding the Warlpiri man’s death.

On Tuesday, the inquest continued hearing testimony from Sgt Christopher Hand, who was one of the officers who Walker allegedly threatened with an axe three days before his death.

The inquest heard Yuendumu elder, Eddie Robertson, called the police station in an “agitated” state asking about Walker. Hand told Robertson they could not give him any information despite knowing Walker had already died.

“We only had limited resources in the police station and there was a concern that once the community knew he had died, then their safety was at risk,” Hand told the inquest.

“Particularly in the central desert region there is traditional cultural payback and that night, that was one of the concerns that I had,” he said. “They obviously wanted answers because they are angry and upset.”

The inquest has previously heard of efforts by senior elders and community members to keep the calm in the community while waiting for hours outside the police station for details about Walker’s condition.

The inquest has heard evidence from local police officers that Walker was not a risk to community and there wasn’t an “urgent” need to arrest Walker.

But Hand said some judges do consider breaching court orders to be a “serious matter” and that Walker had been known to local police officers.

“He’s not a first time offender,” Hand said. “He’s been a repeat property offender as well so the urgency to duty, in my opinion is very subjective.”

Under further questioning by Gerald Mullins, a lawyer for one of the Yuendumu families, Hand told the inquest the urgency of the arrest was connected to suspicion Walker was involved in break-ins at some community nurses’ homes.

Hand said that at the time he attempted to arrest Walker he knew he had breached his court conditions by absconding a drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Mullins: “Put shortly that answer you just gave, you believe there was some connection between the property offences at the nurses quarters and Kumanjayi Walker?”

Hand: “We had no evidence but given Sen Const Smith’s previous experience with Kumanjayi that could have been the case. Yes.”

Mullins: “That was the urgency?”

Hand: “Yes.”

Mullins: “There was not one scintilla of evidence that you had that connected him to any of those offences.”

Hand: “No, that’s right.”

The inquest also heard the significance of “sorry business” and the cultural importance of funerals in Warlpiri culture, which had led to Walker leaving the drug and alcohol treatment centre to attend the funeral of his grandfather.

Hand said he had not received cultural training about the importance of funerals but said he understood funerals were not “significant” for the entire community.

“It’s the family and friends that would go to a funeral, in our culture, and it’s just my understanding,” he said. “It’s the same in their culture, not everyone goes to a funeral in a community.”

The inquest is continuing to hear evidence from Yuendumu police officers.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.