Kumanjayi arrest unsound and unsafe: Senior officer

Deputy Commissioner Murray Smallpage (right) says police deviated from the approved arrest plan.

Deputy Commissioner Murray Smallpage (right) says police deviated from the approved arrest plan. Photo: AAP

A senior officer has rebuked a special police unit for deviating from a detailed plan to detain Indigenous teenager Kumanjayi Walker, who was fatally shot during a bungled arrest.

NT Deputy Police Commissioner Murray Smalpage told the inquest into Mr Walker’s death that the unit did not appear to adhere to standard police safety principles, which was “tactically unsound and unhelpful for his apprehension and potentially placed officers at greater risk”.

Mr Walker, 19, was shot three times by Constable Zachary Rolfe during the botched arrest at Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, on November 9, 2019.

At the time, Const Rolfe was part of a specialist unit trained in cordon-and-contain tactics.

The five-member unit was sent to arrest Mr Walker after he had fled an Alice Springs alcohol rehabilitation clinic the week before, even though he had agreed to turn himself in after his great uncle’s funeral.

At the inquest, Mr Smalpage criticised the unit’s decision to deviate from an approved plan and instead enter the house where Mr Walker was at the time.

“They could have adopted some other tactics to get him to come to the door with his hands [up],” Mr Smalpage said on Tuesday.

“Once you bang on the door, that’s it. There is no element of comeback, you’ve committed to a course of action.”

Mr Walker died while receiving first aid at the Yuendumu police station.

Const Rolfe was subsequently charged with his murder but was acquitted after a Supreme Court trial.

Mr Smalpage also said that prior arrangements for Mr Walker to hand himself in could have been communicated better.

Police had spoken to Mr Walker’s family and stressed the need for the teen to turn himself in after the funeral, which Mr Walker had planned to do.

But Mr Smalpage acknowledged that communication should have been clearer about what “after the funeral” meant, given its ambiguity with different cultural groups.

Mr Smalpage is the highest-ranked police officer to give evidence at the inquest.

More officers and Territory Families are expected to give evidence over the next two weeks.


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