Police with military training ‘more comfortable’ using force, Kumanjayi Walker inquest hears

Police officers who have military training are “more comfortable” using force than their colleagues without, the Northern Territory coroner has heard.

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.

Retired commander David Proctor, who carried out the early coronial investigations into the police shooting of Kumanjayi Walker, told the coroner he believed police officers with a military background could be more comfortable using force while carrying out their duties.

However, he said his investigations did not indicate the officers used force more often than their colleagues without military training.

“I think ex-ADF members are more comfortable in the use of force perhaps than police officers who haven’t received that type of training. As to whether or not there are higher incidents of use of force, from our [research] it was very hard — I don’t think we say that it was significantly higher or not,” Mr Proctor said.

Constable Zachary Rolfe, who shot Mr Walker during an attempted arrest in 2019, served in the Australian Army for five years before joining the NT Police Force.

A black and white image of a young man smiling, wearing a baseball cap, headphones around his neck
Kumanjayi Walker was fatally shot by Constable Rolfe in Yuendumu in 2019.(Supplied)

He was earlier this year found not guilty of any charges related to the death of Mr. Walker.

Yuendumu Parumpurru Committee lawyer, Conor O’Bryan, told the inquest he anticipated he would ultimately urge the coroner to find the specialist Immediate Response Team (IRT) — which deployed to Yuendumu on the night Mr Walker was shot — had the “look and feel of an undisciplined paramilitary unit”.

“I don’t know if I would say it was an undisciplined military unit, I would say it was perhaps undisciplined officers carrying military-type weapons,” Mr Proctor said.

“I think it was a consequence perhaps … of the systemic failures relating to supervision management and compliance with policies and procedures of the IRT.”

A man wearing a silver tie and blue shirt leaves the NT Supreme Court.
Constable Zachary Rolfe was found not guilty of any charges related to the death of Mr. Walker.(ABC News: Tiffany Parker)

Number of use of force incidents not ‘exceptionally high’

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage also heard Constable Rolfe was involved in 46 use of force incidents throughout his three years on the Alice Springs general duties police beat.

Of the 46 incidents, Constable Rolfe used police accoutrements — such as handcuffs, batons, OC spray, tasers or firearms — on 22 occasions.

None of the incidents were found to be excessive use of force.

A room with lines of tables and chairs and a bar table at the front.  A dock is to the right.
The inquest into Kumanjayi Walker’s death will run into next year.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Mr Proctor told the inquest he did not believe 46 was an “exceptionally high” number of incidents.

Constable Rolfe’s lawyer said the officer was not recorded in the “top 20” of NT Police officers who used force in the three-year period Constable Rolfe was based in Alice Springs, from 2016 to 2019.

“There’s a member [in the top 20] which has almost 100 use of force recordings … and that is related to the deployment of an accoutrement only,” said Luke Officer, for Constable Rolfe.

Audio recordings of investigation meetings ‘deleted’

Mr Proctor also told the inquest that coronial investigators had sought audio recordings of Joint Management Committee (JMC) meetings of police officers working on the investigation.

While minutes of the meetings were provided, Mr. Proctor — who attended some of the meetings — said the audio recordings were deleted.

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