The Northern Territory police team involved in the shooting death of an Indigenous teenager weren’t authorised to carry out the arrest that led to the incident, a top-ranking officer says.
Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died after Constable Zachary Rolfe shot him three times while attempting to take him into custody in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs on November 9, 2019.
Assistant police commissioner Travis Wurst told an inquest into the Warlpiri man’s death that he approved a plan to send members of the immediate response team to the outback community to help exhausted local officers with general duties, not arrest Mr Walker.
He said he understood the plan was for local officers to arrest Mr Walker with the assistance of an Aboriginal police officer following a funeral in the community.
“In my mind, I wasn’t deploying the IRT for an IRT function,” he told the coroner in Alice Springs on Monday.
“What I was approving was members of the IRT who were all general duties members to attend to assist at Yuendumu.”
Mr Wurst agreed there was no justification for the team to take tactical weapons, including an AR15 assault rifle and a shotgun, to the community of about 800.
He said it would have been confronting and confusing for the community to see the officers patrolling with the weapons.
“It wasn’t appropriate,” he said.
Friday’s hearing finished with an apology from Sergeant Julie Frost, the officer in charge at Yuendumu when Mr Walker was shot in his grandmother’s home.
In a message directed to the community that turned their backs on her after the fatal shooting, Sgt Frost said she was sorry for the teenager’s loss.
“I hope that you will accept how genuine I am saying that it is a tragedy that Kumanjayi died,” Sgt Frost said.
“To the family and community of Yuendumu, I’m very sorry for the loss of Kumanjayi and I hope this inquest can provide you with some answers to what happened on that night to cause your loss.
“More importantly, I hope that we can all learn from this to ensure that this never happens again.”
Sgt Frost said she was devastated when forced to leave Yuendumu.
“We try our hardest to balance your cultural expectations with the need to ensure that the people in your community remain safe,” she said.
“Like everybody, police sometimes make mistakes, we are not perfect.”
The hearing continues.