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Sergeant of police team deployed to Yuendumu, used 'filthy, racist terms' in 2019, Kumanjayi Walker inquest hears

If the Northern Territory police force re-establishes a specialist tactical team based in Alice Springs, it needs to "flush out" racist language first, the Northern Territory coroner has heard.

WARNING: This article contains extreme and offensive racist language heard in court and the image of an Aboriginal person who has died, with the permission of their family.  

The sergeant in charge of the tactical Immediate Response Team (IRT) in 2019, when it deployed to Yuendumu on the night Kumanjayi Walker was shot, has been named as one of several police officers involved in text exchanges found on Constable Zachary Rolfe's phone.

Constable Rolfe was acquitted of all charges related to the shooting death of Mr Walker after a Supreme Court trial earlier this year.

The Northern Territory coroner is currently presiding over a three-month inquest into the 2019 police shooting.

The coroner heard Sergeant Lee Bauwens sent Constable Rolfe a message in July 2019 which read: "These bush c**ns aren't used to people going after them" — during an exchange "about what appears to have been an arrest of an Aboriginal person in a remote community".

Counsel Assisting the Coroner, Dr Peggy Dwyer, showed a series of text messages involving the sergeant, Constable Rolfe and other officers to witness Senior Constable Anthony Hawkings, who deployed to Yuendumu with the response team on November 9, 2019.

Senior Constable Hawkings said the language used was "inappropriate" and agreed it could bring the NT police force "into disrepute". 

"What was happening in the IRT in 2019 is that police officers were using filthy, racist terms about people they were required to serve and protect," Dr Dwyer said. 

"And the Sergeant who was the head of the IRT was using filthy, racist terms in front of young officers."

The response team was disbanded not long after Mr Walker was shot, and the coroner has heard from several police witnesses that a similar unit was still "required" in Alice Springs.

Senior Constable Hawkings agreed with Dr Dwyer's proposition that if an IRT was re-established, it would be helpful to "flush out" such language, to ensure "leadership at the top is providing proper mentoring to young officers". 

Under cross-examination from Sergeant Bauwens's barrister, Senior Constable Hawkings rejected any proposition the response team was "racist and prone to the use of force". 

He told the coroner he had "always" thought of Sergeant Bauwens as "honourable", had never heard him "utter a racist remark" and agreed the messages were "completely contrary" to what he knew of the officer.

Constable Rolfe's barrister, David Edwardson KC, told the witness: "No one's seeking to justify the use of the language in those messages" before asking: "did you, at all times, regard Zachary Rolfe as a professional and capable member of the IRT?"

"Yes," Constable Hawkings said.

The coroner earlier heard from now-Sergeant Adam Eberl, who described the message as "derogatory" and "inappropriate", but noted he had never heard either Sergeant Bauwens or Constable Rolfe use racist language.

"[Zachary Rolfe] was polite and courteous. Spoke to people with respect, as you would want a police officer to speak to your family," Sergeant Eberl said. 

AR-15 rifle in case of 'something extraordinary'

Senior Constable Hawkings told the coroner he was the only member of the IRT in Yuendumu that night who carried an AR-15 rifle with him.

The officer was referred to during an exchange between Sergeant Eberl and a Yuendumu community member, captured on body worn camera footage played to the court earlier, during which the community member questioned why he was carrying such a weapon.

Senior Constable Hawkings said he carried the rifle as an "option" and acknowledged it could have been "an encumbrance" to making an arrest, because of difficulties with way the weapon needed to be carried.

"I made the decision to take my AR-15 which, for IRT, is our primary weapon, as opposed to taking … your Glock, in the event of the possibility of something extraordinary occurring where we … may have needed it, but may not have had it," he said.

Under cross-examination from the barrister for the Walker, Lane and Robertson families, Senior Constable Hawkings conceded in "hindsight" he might have made a different choice.

"In the back of your mind, there was a risk of losing control of that rifle?" Claire O'Neil asked. 

"Always," Constable Hawkings said.

"So [carrying the rifle] would have influenced decisions you made that day … to grab Kumanjayi Walker, to run after him, because all of these things risked losing control of the firearm?"

"It was a scale that I weighed at the time … but in hindsight, I agree," Constable Hawkings said.

The coroner will continue hearing from members of the IRT throughout the week.

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