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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Sarah Collard

Zachary Rolfe failed to declare ‘violent’ behaviour when applying to join police, court documents show

Constable Zachary Rolfe speaks to the media outside the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin
NT police officer Zachary Rolfe also scored “above average” for aggression on psychological tests administered before he joined the police force. Photograph: Aaron Bunch/AP

Newly released details about the police officer acquitted over the shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker reveal the former soldier failed to declare disciplinary action and “violent” behaviour when applying to join the police, and was banned from applying to Queensland police due to an “integrity breach”.

Rolfe also scored “above average” for aggression on psychological tests, and had a racist text exchange with a senior serving officer, as revealed by previously redacted documents released by the Northern Territory coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, on Tuesday.

The police officer shot 19-year-old Walker three times during an attempted arrest in Yuendumu, north-west of Alice Springs, in November 2019 and was found not guilty of murder and two alternative charges after a six-week trial earlier this year.

A three-month inquest is now examining the events surrounding the Warlpiri man’s death.

The redacted documents released on Tuesday afternoon had been suppressed due to concerns Rolfe had about their relevance.

In a written decision about the admissibility of evidence, the coroner said she “disagreed” that the materials had no relevance to the issues she was investigating.

“Constable Rolfe submits that there is ‘no logical connection’ between this material and my assessment of the issues that arise out of the death of Kumanjayi Walker. I disagree.”

In a written application to become an NT police officer, in 2016, Rolfe was asked: “Have you ever been the subject of any complaints, internal investigations or ever had any disciplinary action imposed on you?”

Rolfe marked his application form “yes” and “no”, before crossing out the “yes” to indicate he had not been the subject of previous complaints.

But according to impugned evidence, in 2012 the former Australian defence force soldier pleaded guilty to theft at a military trial following an internal military investigation.

The documents stated Rolfe was also asked by a three-person panel during an interview for the NT police: “Did you have [any] disciplinary problems when you served in the military?”

“The impugned evidence suggests that Constable Rolfe again failed to declare his ADF disciplinary matters,” Armitage wrote.

The documents also reveal Rolfe lied on application forms when applying to join Northern Territory police, failing to adequately disclose that he had applied to other state police forces.

Rolfe indicated on his NT application he had not applied to other police forces, despite applying to join the Victorian police force the day prior, and the Queensland police force previously.

The document also revealed Rolfe failed to disclose on his written application to Queensland police force a fine issued by the state’s police for “violent” behaviour, but he did disclose it verbally.

Queensland police found the act was an “integrity breach” and Rolfe was excluded from reapplying for 10 years.

In February 2016, Rolfe applied to become a police officer with the NT police and undertook mandatory psychological testing to assess candidates’ suitability.

The testing conducted by the Australian Institute of Forensic Psychologists found Rolfe scored above average for aggressive indicators, but was “otherwise an excellent candidate”.

It stated: “After making a mistake, Zachary is less likely than many others to accept responsibility. He may brush off the significance of the error, seek to minimise his own role, or to blame others.”

It said Rolfe had “above average” aggression scores but said aggressive behaviour could not be determined from the scale alone.

“The ‘Aggression’ score is above average. Whether Zachary will act with firm assertiveness or frank aggression cannot be determined from this scale alone.”

The coroner on Tuesday also rejected Rolfe’s argument about the admissibility of text messages containing racist slurs which have been referred in court as “disgusting” and “derogatory”.

Armitage dismissed efforts to exclude the texts sent between Rolfe and serving members of the NT police force.

The coroner gave an example of a text exchange sent on 9 July 2019 between Sgt Lee Bauwens and Rolfe about an arrest of an Aboriginal person in a remote community, saying the texts were evidence of a link between some officers’ conduct and Walker’s death.

“In my view, there is a potential nexus between Sgt Bauwens’ conduct and the circumstances of Kumanjayi Walker’s death.”

The document details several text messages exchanged between Rolfe and the higher ranking officer, including references to remote community police officers.

“Sgt Bauwens was the officer in charge of the IRT. It might be thought that he was, or ought to have been, responsible for establishing discipline and a working ‘culture’ within the IRT,” Armitage wrote.

In the exchange detailed by Armitage, Bauwens wrote to Rolfe: “These bush coons aren’t used to people going after them.”

Rolfe replied to Bauwens: “Yeah bushcops blow my mind, I’ll tell you about these dudes when I see you.”

Armitage suggested the text messages did not mean the NT police force had issues with “systemic racism”, but that the particular officer could hold and express “overtly racist attitudes”.

“Sgt Bauwens held overtly racist attitudes and … he expressed these views to his subordinates in the IRT when discussing the work of the IRT,” she wrote.

Rolfe is yet to give evidence in the inquest.

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