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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Collard and AAP

Kumanjayi Walker inquest: Walker a known ‘runner’ but not dangerous, police say

Kumanjayi Walker smiling and wearing headphones around his neck
Kumanjayi Walker (pictured) was not a violent risk to anyone, Sen Const Lanyon Smith told the inquest on Monday. Photograph: supplied by his family

A senior community police officer has told an inquest into the death of Northern Territory man Kumanjayi Walker that the 19-year-old was known as a “runner” but he did not believe he was dangerous or would “chop” anyone up with an axe.

Walker was shot three times by NT police constable Zachary Rolfe during an attempted arrest in the remote Northern Territory 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.

The inquest on Monday heard from Sen Const Lanyon Smith, who said he did not believe Walker was a risk to police or the community.

“I knew him as a known runner. He had previously run,” Smith said.

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

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

Smith has worked in Yuendumu and several other remote communities, including Alice Springs, for over two decades.

Walker allegedly threatened Smith and fellow officer, Sen Const Christopher Hand, with an axe three days before he was killed. Smith told the inquest that, despite the incident, he did not believe Walker was a violent risk to anyone.

He said he had had previous interactions with Walker and that he was known as a flight risk among local police officers.

He said he did not think there was any urgent risk in arresting Walker after he absconded a drug and alcohol treatment centre to attend a funeral of a prominent Yuendumu elder.

Under questioning by Andrew Boe, a lawyer for several of the families of Yuendumu, including Walker, Smith rejected claims some officers should be stripped of weapons.

He told the coroner that officers still needed their weapons to “deter” potential aggression or offenders.

Smith told the inquest that in his two decades of policing in remote communities, he had never drawn his handgun, or his taser, and had never discharged his pepper spray during the line of duty.

He also rejected calls from senior Yuendumu elders into an inquiry into police carrying weapons .

“Do you think there is some use in there being a more detailed inquiry into how police, specifically in communities, might be permitted to not wear guns?,” Boe said.

Henthen went on to ask Smith if there were benefits in discussing the optional carrying of guns if risks were balanced.

Smith told the inquest firearms were necessary.

Boe: “So from all of your experience, do you accept that there’s an extremely low chance of you ever having to draw your Glock, in the Yuendumu Community?”

Smith: “No, because there are guns within Yuendumu Community.”

Boe: “How do you know that?”

Smith: “Because there are. I know community members which lawfully own guns.”

Boe: “So why did that add to the chance of you having to draw your Glock, if you’ve never had to for 22 years?”

Smith: “If a community member has a gun, we need to have guns as well.”

Another officer to give evidence at the inquest said young Aboriginal men sometimes took up weapons as a show of force, without any real intention of using them.

Sgt 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.”

The inquiry continues.

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