Inquest into Indigenous teen death will not take place in remote community due to tensions

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned the following article contains images of a deceased person.

An inquest into the death of an Indigenous teenager shot dead by a Northern Territory police officer won’t begin as planned in a remote town because of community tensions.
Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died on November 9, 2019 after Constable Zachary Rolfe30, shot him three times during an outback arrest gone wrong in the remote community of Yuendumu, 290 kilometers northwest of Alice Springs.

Rolfe was acquitted at trial in March of murdering the teen, igniting grief and anger in his community.

A Northern Territory policeman has been charged with murder over last weekend’s shooting of 19-year-old Indigenous man Kumanjayi Walker. (AAP)

An inquest scheduled for September 5 will explore if there is systemic racism or cultural bias in the NT police force and whether Mr Walker received adequate medical treatment before he died from his injuries on the floor of a police station.

Community members had asked coroner Elizabeth Armitage to consider holding the first few days of the inquest in Yuendumu.

But counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer on Monday said Walker’s family had changed its position.

Kumanjayi Walker USE THIS PHOTO AT FAMILY'S REQUEST
Kumanjayi Walker died in the remote community of Yuendumu, around 300 kilometers from Alice Springs, in 2019. (Supplied)

“The strongly held view currently is that the inquest should not commence in Yuendumu or sit in Yuendumu at all,” she told a directions hearing.

“The community is in a state of high conflict at present and community members don’t feel comfortable having outsiders, including journalists, spending time in the community.”

NT Police lawyer Ian Freckelton QC said the force was hopeful the recent issues in Yuendumu would soon be resolved.

The family of Kumanjayi Walker, a 19-year-old Warlpiri man who was shot and killed in 2019.
The family of Kumanjayi Walker, a 19-year-old Warlpiri man who was shot and killed in 2019. (9News)

“There was a particular incident and then there was some consequences to that,” he said.

“There is a mediation process which is ongoing and there is optimism that will result in … an easing of tensions.”

Armitage agreed the plans to hold hearings in Yuendumu should be scrapped and the inquest should begin as scheduled in Alice Springs.

The coroner would still visit the community at some stage during the inquest and may use it as an opportunity to speak to locals on a less formal basis, the hearing was told.

Arrangements were being made to have the hearings broadcast into Yuendumu and for some statements to be translated into the Warlpiri and Luritja languages.

“Every effort will be made to make these proceedings less intimidating and more open and inclusive,” Dwyer said.

Among the 54 issues the coroner will probe is whether Rolfe was suffering any health issues or using any drugs that impacted his actions.

Rolfe’s training for use of force and firearms will also be examined, along with the force’s broader policies and policies and whether they were complied with when the constable was sent from Alice Springs to the remote community to arrest Walker.

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