The officer in charge of the Yuendumu police station on the night Kumanjayi Walker died says she wouldn’t have allowed the unit Constable Zachary Rolfe was part of into the community if she had known any members of the team had exchanged racist texts.
- Sergeant Julie Frost says she wouldn’t have called the response team if she had known about racist texts
- She says she’s “devastated” for the family that they couldn’t see Mr Walker before he died
- Zachary Rolfe has been found not guilty of all charges relating to Mr Walker’s death
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died, used with the permission of their family.
Sergeant Julie Frost on Wednesday gave evidence at the three-month inquest into the police shooting death of the 19-year-old, apologising to Mr Walker’s family and denying any suggestion police exaggerated the threat posed by the community.
Constable Rolfe was sent to Yuendumu to help arrest Mr Walker as part of the Immediate Response Team, a special police group based in Alice Springs.
Constable Rolfe has been cleared of all charges over his death.
Last week “racist” and “derogatory” text message exchanges sent between Constable Rolfe and some of his fellow officers were read out in court and on Thursday counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer revealed an unnamed sergeant involved in the response team was implicated in the texts.
Sergeant Frost said she would not have asked for the team’s assistance or allowed them to enter the community if she had known they held “racist views about Aboriginal people”.
Sergeant Frost was questioned on why the community had not been told the Warlpiri-Luritja man had died until the following day and why no one from the community was allowed inside to be with him “in his final hours”.
In a report read aloud to the coroner by counsel for the Brown family, Gerard Mullins, Sergeant Frost reportedly told her superior officer that she was concerned for her officers’ safety.
Coroner Elisabeth Armitage heard in the same report from Superintendent Jody Nobbs that “community members and family have the ongoing belief that police are providing some medical attention to Walker and any entry of the station or violence towards police will compromise this”.
Sergeant Frost told the inquest “there was a level of having to mislead the community” because police were concerned for their safety after rocks were thrown at the station.
On Wednesday the coroner heard Mr Walker’s family was kept in the dark because officers in the station feared “pay back” from the community over his death.
‘People just want to find out’
Mr Walker died just after 8:30pm that night and on Wednesday the coroner was shown text messages exchanged between Sergeant Frost and Aboriginal community police officer Derek Williams, who was outside the station with gathered community members at the time of his death.
In the texts, Sergeant Frost asked how “gathering elders for a conversation to quell the crowd” would go “once they find out”?
Mr Williams responded that there “will be trouble, but people just want to find out” and “all [will] be in danger” … but “elders will sort it from there”.
Mr Williams was also Kumanjayi Walker’s uncle.
The court heard that prior to Mr Walker’s death, Mr Williams was invited inside the station to meet with Sergeant Frost and while he was inside, he saw the 19-year-old receiving CPR.
Sergeant Frost told the coroner she “assumed” Mr Williams had known Mr Walker had died but said she had been told not to tell him.
Under examination from Mr Mullins, he put to her that she was only directed not to tell the community Mr Walker had died at 10pm, “so there was certainly an hour or so, between 8:30pm and 10pm where you were making that decision”.
She said could not recall.
‘I really want to apologise to the community’
When asked if she regretted not allowing Mr Walker’s family to be with him when he died, she said “regret was not the right word”.
“I’m devastated for the family that we couldn’t allow that. But we did that for a specific reason and that was safety.”
She said she had no knowledge of anyone attempting to breach the compound, even though the court heard it “wasn’t hard” to do.
Sergeant Frost told the court she “totally understood” why the community felt “betrayed” by the Northern Territory police.
“I really want to apologise to the community,” she said.
“We had to make these decisions for the benefit and safety of both the community and police and unfortunately … that’s what we came up with.”