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A leading Darwin-based justice agency has met with Northern Territory Police and called for an independent investigation into the tragic shooting of 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker in the remote community of Yuendumu on Saturday night.
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency’s (NAAJA) chief executive officer, Priscilla Atkins, told NITV News that it asked NT Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker on Monday to conduct a “thorough” and “transparent” investigation into the incident.
“At the end of the day we want the truth to come out and he (Mr Chalker) is actually on the same page as that,” she said.
“We will be respecting the police investigation and NAAJA will also be providing our staff to go out to the community to speak to members out there as well."
However, In a written public statement issued on Tuesday, the Central Land Council (CLC) supported calls from the Yuendumu community that an inquiry needed to be "independent of the Northern Territory Police”.
“The elders kept the community together, respectfully and peacefully,” said the CLC statement.
“They have called for an inquest and for it to happen at Yuendumu so people feel safe to share their own stories in their community.
"That’s what they have requested, that’s what they need support for and that’s what we stand by.”
Co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), Cheryl Axleby, also confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that NAAJA was not notified, as was legally required, about the incident on Saturday night.
“Despite new Custody Notification regulations, police did not inform the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency that Kumanjayi Walker was in custody,” Ms Axleby said.
“The Custody Notification Service is in place to save lives and there must be answers as to why police are not following their legal requirements.”
Ms Axleby is also urging the police to leave the community, as requested by community Elders, to allow time for sorry business.
“We urge police to take seriously the community’s request for police officers to leave the community during this time of sorry business and healing,” said Ms Axleby.
Ms Atkins said NAAJA had requested to view any footage captured on the body cameras worn by the two officers involved in the fatal shooting on Saturday night.
“The officers did have body cameras on so we have requested to view that footage, but that is part of that investigation. It’s too early for them to be able to confirm that with us at this moment,” she said.
Ms Atkins also said that it was her understanding that the officers attended the premises earlier on Saturday, and that an earlier incident had occurred.
“The young man from Yuendumu did have a warrant out for his arrest because he breached his parole conditions," she said. "[The police] had gone there earlier and there was an incident there.
“That will be part of the investigation: we need to look at the whole timeline and reasons why certain steps weren’t taken.”
Echoing the Yuendumu community, Ms Atkins said the most pressing question was why a firearm was used over non-lethal weapons.
“We don’t agree with having firearms used, that should be the last resort,” she said. “So our big question is why the pepper spray wasn’t used and why wasn’t tasers used?"
Eye witness testimonies from local residents have also emerged since the shooting which also raise questions.
On Monday, NITV News reported that Senita Granites, an Aunty of Mr Walker, witnessed officers load him into the police vehicle.
“He wasn’t even moving when he was dragged out from the house by the leg. He wasn’t even carried,” she said.
While Yuendumu elder, Elizabeth Katakarinja, told Ngaarda Media there were people at the residence when police arrived and that Mr Walker was lying down with his grandfather.
"They stand him up against the wall and they wrestled him. He didn't' have any weapon ... They just put him in handcuffs straight away… how can he have a weapon? He didn't have any weapons, they handcuffed him,” said Ms Katakarinja.
"There were two aunties and the other one tried to use the social media to record what they (the police) are doing with their nephew and the police just came and hid her hand when she was filming.”
Questions have also emerged on social media around the decision by police to approach Mr Walker without adequate support following a post by NT police to the Facebook page Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services that said the officers were attempting to arrest Mr Walker for “alleged property and assault police offences”.
Ms Atkins told NITV News the death of Mr Walker “wouldn’t have happened” if community policing models were followed.
“You have Elders in the community, you have very strong Elders in those communities: why couldn’t you approach Elders and family members to assist to go there to speak to the young man? Why resort to sending officers in there who then use firearms?” she said.
“There are other ways this can happen and this is really about going back to the community policing models where the police are working with the communities where they work with the law and justice group.”
On the night, Elders and family members made requests to enter the police station where Mr Walker was being held but were denied from doing so. Ms Atkins said that will also be a point of inquiry in the investigation.
“Really, at the end of the day, it should be about recognising Elders in the community and law and justice groups in the community," she said.
"They're the ones that not only the police, but the stakeholders, can go to assist them when there are community issues."
A broken system
It has also emerged that medical services in the remote community were "evacuated" following a series of break-ins, which led to an absence of qualified personnel to attend to Mr Walker and an allegedly injured police officer after the shooting incident.
After the shooting, Mr Walker was taken to the police station where officers said they performed first-aid and called for an ambulance. Sources from the community told NITV News the ambulance took around two hours to arrive.
NT police have alleged Mr Walker died at the station before the ambulance arrived.
"My understanding [is] the phone call went in around 7:30pm, they hopped straight in an ambulance and attended within an hour," Northern Territory chief minister Michael Gunner said on Sunday.
Formal requests to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS )for an airlift were also made at around 8:15 pm and the flight canceled at around 9 pm after the RFDS heard of Mr Walker’s death.
In a statement on Tuesday, the RFDS said they delayed the 50 minute flight as they were waiting to hear back from the NT Police regarding “a safe and secure environment for the aircraft [and] crew to land, and what resource was available to meet and safely transport the retrieval team by vehicle to the patient," as reported by the ABC.
The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) told the ABC that “it is not acceptable for [the RFDS] to not make the approach and land”.
AMSANT has called on the NT Government and the RFDS to investigate the evacuation of the local medical staff and the aborted aircraft response.