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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Nino Bucci

Evidence not examined in Zachary Rolfe trial could be scrutinised at Kumanjayi Walker’s inquest

Kumanjayi Walker
Kumanjayi Walker was shot by Zachary Rolfe as the Northern Territory police officer was trying to arrest him in 2019. Rolfe was found not guilty of murder. Photograph: Supplied by his family

Eighteen days after Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe was cleared of murdering Kumanjayi Walker, attention is turning to another court proceeding – an early hearing regarding the coronial inquest into the Warlpiri man’s death.

Acting NT coroner Elisabeth Armitage will hold an inquest into the death in September but a directions hearing on Tuesday may give an insight into the extent of issues she will investigate.

Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him on 9 November 2019 in Yuendumu about 300km from Alice Springs. A jury unanimously found him not guilty of murder and two alternative charges on 11 March this year after a six-week trial in the NT supreme court.

Rolfe’s supporters, including his lawyers and the NT Police Association, and Walker’s family, Warlpiri elders, and the prosecution commented after the verdict that the inquest could provide clarity about what they viewed as unresolved matters regarding the death.

Prosecutor Philip Strickland SC said the trial had not been able to explore every issue raised by the shooting.

“We anticipate that those issues, and the evidence that could not be examined in this trial, will be very carefully scrutinised at the inquest,” he said.

“It is our view that the family of Kumanjayi Walker, and the Warlpiri community, and indeed the Australian people deserve no less than that full scrutiny.”

Those issues include a suggested ban on guns in remote communities, concerns about why the heavily-armed immediate response team – a semi-tactical group of which Rolfe was a member – deployed to Yuendumu, and of the chain of command and procedures governing the deployment.

Questions about the police investigation into Rolfe and alleged political interference in the decision to charge him are unlikely to feature in the inquest, but the NT Independent Commissioner Against Corruption is considering an inquiry into the matter, following calls from the territory opposition.

“I am presently considering whether I should inquire into the circumstances of the investigation and arrest of Mr Rolfe,” commissioner Michael Riches said in a statement earlier this month.

“While I appreciate the public interest in the matter I will not be rushed to decide whether or not I will investigate.”

The NT chief minister, Michael Gunner, told the ABC last week that any suggestion he had interfered in the case – including a suggestion of such interference made by Rolfe – was “absolutely untrue and probably [legally] actionable”.

Gunner also said he believed the IRT had been disbanded since the shooting but NT police said the unit had been suspended and its future was being reviewed.

Gunner also used the ABC interview to say he did not back the call to ban guns in remote communities – a position echoed by the NT Police Association.

Multiple families from Yuendumu will be represented by lawyers at the inquest. Guardian Australia understands they will press Armitage to inquire into Rolfe’s alleged history within the force prior to the arrest of Walker.

Since the verdict, details have emerged of four cases involving Rolfe in which he was alleged to have used unreasonable force. No adverse findings have been made against Rolfe in relation to any of the cases – which emerged as part of a review of hundreds of arrests he had been involved in that was conducted as part of the murder investigation.

Justice John Burns, who presided over the trial, ruled that evidence of the prior cases was inadmissible, as it would not assist the jury in reaching a verdict about whether Rolfe had murdered Walker.

He found, in a phrase picked up by the defence, that the prosecution had “cherry-picked” the arrests which they viewed as most relevant, but potentially discarded dozens more in which there had been no incident. He found the previous cases were not relevant to the shooting.

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