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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Collard

Kumanjayi Walker death: police officer stood down from inquest over ‘unanticipated’ evidence

The Northern Territory police logo
Lawyers representing the NT police force at the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker told the coroner ‘unanticipated’ evidence from Supt Jody Nobbs was concerning. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

A senior police officer has been stood down from the inquest into the police shooting death of Warlpiri teenager Kumanjayi Walker after a tense legal argument in an Alice Springs court room.

Walker was shot three times by Constable Zachary Rolfe during an attempted arrest by the immediate response team in Yuendumu in November 2019.

Rolfe was found not guilty of murder and two alternative charges after a six-week trial in the Northern Territory supreme court in Darwin earlier this year.

Wednesday’s hearing was unexpectedly adjourned after evidence from Supt Jody Nobbs.

Nobbs was due to continue his testimony on Wednesday, but lawyers representing the NT police force and Rolfe told the coroner “unanticipated” evidence from the officer was concerning.

Ian Freckelton KC, for the NT police force, told coroner Elisabeth Armitage he needed to confer with the police executive as some of the evidence given by Nobbs, who deployed Rolfe to Yuendumu, was unexpected.

Freckelton said it was a matter of “fundamental fairness” and that it was “regrettable”, but he had no option but to seek leave from the coroner.

“Various things that were said yesterday, and issues that arose yesterday, that had been previously unanticipated by us, require us to ask of you that the current witness be stood down for the present,” he said.

“As a matter of fundamental fairness, we have no option but to seek that leave from you.”

Freckleton KC said all members of the NT police force deserved “assertive representation” throughout the proceedings.

“We would be deeply troubled if any of the members of the Northern Territory police force were not adequately and assertively represented throughout these proceedings … given the anguish that has been imposed,” Freckleton told the coroner.

Counsel representing the police association Sally Ozolins said it was vital all police officers involved, or giving evidence, were appropriately represented.

“I also note that a member who has been referenced several times throughout the course of the evidence to date remains unrepresented in these proceeding,” Ozolins said, when raising her objections to the witness.

“If this is going to go down a similar path as what went on yesterday, then plainly that can’t happen,” David Edwardson KC, the barrister for Rolfe, told the court.

But Armitage rejected that notion and said the inquest was being conducted “appropriately”.

“This isn’t anything about what went on yesterday,” the coroner told him.

Armitage told lawyers for the NT police: “This inquest is being conducted in an appropriate manner as to inquire into the issues that clearly are arising on the material in the brief.”

Counsel assisting the coroner Patrick Coleridge said any objections in the brief had already been clearly outlined during preliminary hearings and legal objections already cleared.

“We are all adults,” Coleridge said. “We are legal professionals. The brief was served, in my respectful submission, it would be apparent to any competent lawyer reading that brief.”

On Tuesday, Nobbs told the court that there were “broader” issues of racism within the NT police that were “frustrating and disappointing’.

He also raised serious concerns regarding the deployment of the Immediate Response Team after officers involved did not follow the original arrest plan.

Nobbs said a “social gathering” on 11 November between Rolfe and other police officers just days after the shooting could “potentially” contaminate the integrity of the an investigation and bring the police force into “disrepute”.

The inquest resumed this afternoon with testimony from Sgt Shaun Furniss, who briefly gave evidence after the adjournment.

The inquest is set to continue until November.

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