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NT coroner shown 'distressing' video of the moment Kumanjayi Walker's family was informed of his death

"Distressing" video of the moment Kumanjayi Walker's family members were informed of his death has been played to the Northern Territory coroner, in which police are heard urging emotional loved ones not to get "angry" and calling the deceased Mr Walker by the wrong name.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family. 

The morning after Mr Walker was shot by Constable Zachary Rolfe, Darwin-based tactical police in the Territory Response Group (TRG) visited his family in Yuendumu to inform them he had passed away, and that his body had been taken to Alice Springs.

In Sergeant Meacham King's body-worn video, he can be heard telling members of Mr Walker's family: "With what happened last night, poor Aaron has passed away."

Mr Walker's legal name, which for cultural reasons can't be used after his death, was not Aaron.

The Northern Territory Coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, is presiding over a months-long inquest into the police shooting of Kumanjayi Walker.

Constable Zachary Rolfe, who shot Mr Walker during an attempted arrest in November 2019, was earlier this year acquitted of all charges.

In the video shown to the coronial inquest on Wednesday, visibly upset family members were told "the policeman who was involved" had been flown to Alice Springs and that it was "important for all you mob, before you get that anger, before you get that hurt, you come to the police station to talk".

"The reason TRG are here is because we have the beanbag shotgun and the other stuff to stop people when they're rioting … I understand the problems that are going to come from this," Sergeant King said in the video.

"It's really, really important for you as family that you work with us to try and resolve this, we don't want anyone else to get hurt."

The officer explained to the court he did not intend to intimidate anyone with the comments.

Sergeant King told the coroner police had earlier informed Eddie Robertson, a grandfather of Kumanjayi Walker, about his death but that Mr Robertson wasn't going to tell the rest of the community.

"We didn't tell him on the phone because we couldn't control the narrative … I really wanted to get some impression from Eddie how he thought the community would respond," Sergeant King said.

The officer was also heard on the video telling Mr Walker's family that Constable Rolfe had feared for his life before shooting Kumanjayi Walker, which he on Wednesday told the court was an "assumption".

"That policeman was stabbed, so he had to go to hospital as well … no one knows exactly what happened. We can't start guessing and making story up about what we think happened," Sergeant King said in the video.

"The reason that policeman did what he did was because he thought he was going to die… this isn't a case of him shooting for no reason."

Sergeant King explained to the coroner he was trying to tell Mr Walker's family that Constable Rolfe "didn't just walk into a house and shoot him in cold blood".

"[I wanted them to] just listen to us, take on the terrible news that you lost a family member, but we needed a bit of narrative out there about how it happened," he said. 

Lottie Robertson, a grandmother of Kumanjayi Walker, was heard on the video asking police about a comment she said Sergeant Frost had made after an earlier attempt to arrest Mr Walker resulted in the 19-year-old running at officers with an axe.

"Then again … I heard you say you was going to bring a taskforce here to be able to hunt him down like a dog … they might shoot him too," Ms Robertson said on the tape.

Sergeant Frost can be heard refuting the claim.

TRG 'would have deployed' to Yuendumu

Sergeant King, who was the tactical commander of the TRG at the time of the shooting, told the coroner that if the tactical unit had been asked to deploy to Yuendumu to assist with the arrest of Kumanjayi Walker, it would have.

"I think we would have gone. They wouldn't call us unless they wanted us to go," Sergeant King said.

"That's from looking at the video of the axe incident?" Judge Armitage asked.

"It's hard to say… [but] having seen the report of two members trapped with an axe and they asked us to go, we would have," he said.

Sergeant King said the TRG had an "added advantage" when it came to dealing with offenders with a "propensity for violence".

He also told the coroner he was unaware of tactical police carrying "long arm" shotguns around the Yuendumu community the morning after the shooting, and that if he had known at the time, he would have told them not to.

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage told Sergeant King “there might need to be a little bit of reflection” about what the Yuendumu community felt was a “very heavy handed and uncalled for policing response… in the days following” the shooting of Kumanjayi Walker.

The court has been shown images of police carrying rifles in the community in the wake of Mr Walker’s death.

Sergeant King apologised to a community member who earlier told the Coroner she felt the officer had a “complete lack of empathy” for her when she asked questions about the shooting.

“I don’t believe I came across as unempathetic… when she left we [the officers] actually thought we had a good inroad with [her]. We had a good conversation for about 20 minutes. I apologise to her,” he said.

Sergeant seeks to avoid questions over allegedly 'racist' texts

Yesterday afternoon, lawyers for a Northern Territory police sergeant who allegedly used "filthy, racist terms" in a text exchange with Constable Rolfe took an attempt to limit his evidence at the inquest to the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

The court had earlier heard Sergeant Lee Bauwens, who was the officer-in-charge of the specialist Immediate Response Team (IRT) at the time Mr Walker was shot, allegedly used the term "bush c**ns" in a text message to Constable Rolfe in July 2019. 

The coroner said the exchange appeared to be about the "arrest of an Aboriginal person in a remote community".

Sergeant Bauwens was expected to be called to give evidence this week, but after a last-minute temporary injunction was granted by the NT Supreme Court, he is not presently allowed to be asked about the messages.

Late yesterday afternoon, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Brownhill ordered he could not be called "to answer questions on matters that could give rise to a claim for penalty privilege" until after a further hearing before the Supreme Court. 

The question of penalty privilege was first raised by lawyers for Sergeant Paul Kirkby, who argued the officer shouldn't be required to answer questions which could result in disciplinary action being taken against him by the NT Police Force.

Sergeant Kirkby, the coroner heard, was also involved in a series of text messages.

"Those allegations put to witnesses in examination would expose the potential to breach of discipline proceedings," Stephen Robson SC said.

In Northern Territory coronial proceedings, the coroner can grant a certificate to witnesses, protecting them from incrimination as a result of anything they say in court.

Mr Robson SC had argued the certificate didn't apply to internal proceedings, but Judge Armitage disagreed.

She issued a certificate to Sergeant Kirkby "in relation to answers that might criminate [him] in any future proceedings", including in "including internal, administrative proceedings".

However, lawyers for Sergeant Lee Bauwens flagged the officer wanted to "review" the decision and late on Tuesday afternoon, took their efforts to the Supreme Court.

Justice Brownhill ruled the parties would argue the penalty privilege issue in mid-November and until then, Sergeant Bauwens couldn't be asked questions which could result in disciplinary action.

It remains unclear whether he will be called to answer other related questions before being recalled after the Supreme Court hearing.

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