Walker inquest hears of NT teen’s childhood trauma

Constable Zachary Rolfe shot and killed Kumanjayi Walker during a botched arrest attempt at Yuendumu in 2019.

Constable Zachary Rolfe shot and killed Kumanjayi Walker during a botched arrest attempt at Yuendumu in 2019. Photo: AAP

Kumanjayi Walker had complex developmental trauma which would have influenced his interactions with police, an inquest into the Northern Territory teenager’s death has heard.

Mr Walker was 19 when he was killed during a botched arrest attempt at Yuendumu, northeast of Alice Springs in November 2019.

The Warlpiri man was shot three times by Constable Zachary Rolfe, who was subsequently charged with his murder and acquitted after a Supreme Court trial.

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage on Wednesday convened her inquiry for the final sitting of the year, hearing evidence from trauma and addiction counsellor Kerri-Anne Chilvers.

Ms Chilvers said she had known Mr Walker since he was 12 and engaged with him over a number of years, last seeing him shortly before his death.

She described an early encounter with the teen when he participated in a program at a remote outstation.

Upon arrival, the other kids jumped out of the car but Mr Walker stayed in a fetal position and would not move or speak, something Ms Chilvers later recognised as a trauma response to an overwhelming new environment.

A trauma and addiction counsellor told the inquest that Kumanjayi Walker had complex developmental trauma. Photo: AAP

Over the years, he displayed symptoms of trauma including hyper-vigilance, outbursts of anger, poor impulse control and an “exaggerated startle response”.

The inquest heard he repeatedly escaped from youth detention, having been hospitalised with multiple dog bites as a result of one arrest.

“That tells me that his need to escape was greater than anything else,” Ms Chilvers said.

“He was not thinking about what happened last time. He was only thinking in that moment when he made that call to escape again.”

Ms Chilvers said she had formed a clinical impression that Mr Walker had suffered from complex developmental trauma.

This was reinforced by a “body map” activity in which Mr Walker illustrated a limited physical awareness of his response to stress.

Death could have been avoided

Ms Chilvers said she believed the death of the “caring young man” could have been avoided if police had employed trauma-informed practices during the attempted arrest.

She felt it would take years for authorities to rebuild trust with young people in Yuendumu.

“Kids will say ‘you’ll get shot’ now. It’s had a significant impact,” she said.

“I don’t know what is needed but if these are already traumatised kids, that’s not going to help develop their relationships with police.”

The inquest is set to resume in late February for two weeks of sittings, with Const Rolfe expected to give further evidence.


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