NT police officer Zachary Rolfe to stand trial for shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker

The Northern Territory police officer charged over the shooting death of teenager Kumanjayi Walker last year has been committed to stand trial in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

Constable Zachary Rolfe was charged with murder after the teen was fatally shot during an arrest attempt in the remote community of Yuendumu in November 2019.

Alice Springs Local Court Judge John Birch handed down his decision on Monday after a three-day committal hearing last month.

He also issued a suppression order preventing publication of his reasons for committing the case to trial.

During the three-day committal hearing, the court heard Mr Walker was shot three times on the night he died.

The fatal shooting followed an earlier attempt to arrest Mr Walker, the court heard.

Officers from the Immediate Response Team (IRT), which included Constable Rolfe, were later sent to Yuendumu to arrest the 19-year-old.

According to evidence heard during the committal, Mr Walker stabbed Constable Rolfe with a pair of scissors during the November 9 arrest attempt.

A criminologist gave evidence that two of the three shots Constable Rolfe then fired at Mr Walker were “excessive, unreasonable and unnecessary”.

The court was told the 19-year-old was shot three times on the night of the incident.(Supplied: Facebook)

In a final attempt to have the case thrown out last month, lawyers for Mr Rolfe argued the police officer was acting in self-defence when he fired the three shots.

“There is not a single piece of evidence the prosecution have produced in this case that suggests that Zachary Rolfe did anything other than comply wholeheartedly with the very training the NT police gave him,” defence barrister David Edwardson QC told the hearing.

But prosecutors argued the IRT had “disregarded” an arrest plan by Sergeant Julie Frost from the Yuendumu police station.

“There was a careful plan put in place by Julie Frost which involved the deceased being arrested whilst he was asleep at five in the morning,” prosecutor Philip Strickland SC told the hearing.

“All those things were planned to control the environment better.

“[But] he has put himself in the position where his tactical options were limited, because of a failure to follow that plan.”

A small crowd made up of Mr Walker’s family and Yuendumu community members gathered outside the Alice Springs Local Court ahead of Monday’s ruling.

Community members gave speeches, with one person telling the crowd: “This is what we needed.”

Cheers and cries of “justice for Walker” could be heard as the decision was handed down.

Supporters of Kumanjayi Walker gather outside the Alice Springs Local Court as a decision to send the case to trial comes down.
Kumanjayi Walker’s supporters gathered outside the court as the decision was handed down.(ABC News: Mitchell Abram)

Constable Rolfe appeared in court via video link from Canberra, where he is on bail.

He has been suspended from the police force with pay.

His bail has been extended until his next court appearance on November 25, when he will face the Supreme Court for the first time.

It is expected he will appear from Canberra on that date.

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Court shown video of Kumanjayi Walker running at police with axe days before fatal police shooting in Yuendumu

Footage of Yuendumu teenager Kumanjayi Walker running at police with an axe in the days before he was fatally shot has been played at the committal hearing for the officer charged with his murder.

WARNING: This article contains an image of Mr Walker used with the permission of his family.

The committal hearing of Constable Zachary Rolfe began in the Alice Springs Local Court today, with a judge to decide whether there is enough evidence for the case to be committed for trial in the NT Supreme Court.

Constable Rolfe has indicated he plans to plead not guilty to the charge of murder laid over the shooting of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker during an attempted arrest in Yuendumu last November.

Police witnesses who gave evidence on Tuesday morning were questioned by defence counsel David Edwardson QC about what he described as Kumanjayi Walker’s “predisposition to violence”.

In the footage shown to the court, Mr Walker can be seen yelling and brandishing an axe while running through a doorway at police who had gone to a home in the community to arrest him on Wednesday, November 6.

The court was told Mr Walker’s partner had “obstructed” police from entering the bedroom where he was.

“That had given [Mr Walker] enough time to retrieve an axe he had hidden under his bed,” said Sergeant Julie Frost, who was the Officer in Charge of the Yuendumu Police Station at the time.

The officers ran out of Mr Walker’s way and were not injured but Sergeant Frost told the court Mr Walker “could have been shot”.

Dog-handler Adam Donaldson, who said he was deployed to Yuendumu to help with Mr Walker’s arrest after the incident, told the court his police training had taught him “knife equals gun”.

“It’s always firearm for an edged weapon,” said Mr Donaldson.

Under re-examination by prosecutor Philip Strickland SC, Mr Donaldson agreed his police training was to “present” a firearm when confronted with a knife but “not necessarily” fire it.

Immediate response team called

Sergeant Frost told the court she asked for additional resources, including the Immediate Response Team (IRT) and dog squad, following the “axe incident” involving Mr Walker and two local officers.

Constable Zachary Rolfe is charged with one count of murder.(ABC News: Grenville Turner)

“I articulated I wanted the dog unit specifically and I wanted the IRT unit because of the high risk,” she told the court.

“I knew Walker would run and I knew that would be the best method of letting him run and letting the dog get him.”

The court heard Sergeant Frost had spoken with Mr Walker’s grandparents following the botched arrest attempt and agreed to allow Mr Walker to attend a funeral and memorial concert in Yuendumu if he handed himself in to police afterwards.

“It was a bargaining chip we tried to use as best as possible,” she said.

“I also know that funerals for Aboriginal people are particularly important — it was partly a bargaining chip and partly out of respect, to let him go to the funeral.”

Defence lawyer David Edwardson walks ahead of two other men in suits carrying two pieces of luggage.
Defence lawyer David Edwardson QC walking into Alice Springs Local Court on Tuesday.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

Sergeant Frost told the hearing she had planned for the arrest of Mr Walker to take place around 5:30am on Sunday after the funeral on the Saturday, with the involvement of the IRT unit, dog handler and one local officer, Felix Alefaio, who had a relationship with Mr Walker.

She said the early morning was chosen as “generally it’s a safer time for a high-risk arrest, there are a lot fewer people affected by alcohol and drugs.”

The court also heard Sergeant Frost had a “challenging” conversation with a member of the Immediate Response Team, who she said she felt was “trying to take over” the operation.

The court heard an “alert of violence” had been added to Mr Walker’s police file after the axe incident, alerting police officers to the risk of potential violence.

Sergeant Frost said she was not aware of any leadership structure within the IRT and that she “would have expected that prior to 5:30 in the morning they would distribute the roles … and incorporate what [local officer] Felix [Alefaio] knew.”

Mr Walker was shot the evening before Sergeant Frost had planned to arrest him.

A selfie photo of Mr Walker taken from Facebook.
Kumanjayi Walker died after being shot in Yuendumu in November 2019.(Supplied: Facebook)

Under cross-examination by defence counsel David Edwardson QC, Sergeant Frost agreed Mr Walker was “violent” and that she had directed the IRT to arrest him if they came across him during patrols.

“Not because he was violent and dangerous, but because they had an opportunity,” she said.

Sergeant Frost also told the court that while there was a possibility Mr Walker had been involved in break-in’s at the community’s nurses quarters, she had “no intelligence to suggest that”.

Accused hospitalised after shooting

The court also heard Constable Rolfe was hospitalised after the shooting, with Alice Springs-based officer Breanna Bonney giving evidence that she and a handful of colleagues visited Mr Rolfe “in the acute section of emergency”.

Defence counsel Mr Edwardson QC put to Constable First Class Bonney that Mr Rolfe told colleagues, “I’m okay, I’ve got this stab wound,” but did not elaborate on how the injury happened.

Constable Bonney said she later called Mr Rolfe on his personal mobile, but the details of that conversation were not aired in court.

The court heard a group of officers later gathered at Mr Rolfe’s house after he had been released from Alice Springs Hospital, where a conversation about police training took place.

Part of Constable Bonney’s statement was read to the court, in which she said: “We all thought he would be back at work within the week.”

The committal hearing will continue tomorrow, when it is expected body camera footage of the alleged shooting will be played to court.

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NT court sets timeline for case against Zachary Rolfe, who is charged with murder over death of Kumanjayi Walker

A court has agreed on a timeline for lawyers to file witness lists in the murder case of a Northern Territory police officer charged over the fatal shooting of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker.

Constable Zachary Rolfe is charged with one count of murder over Mr Walker’s death in the remote Aboriginal community of Yuendumu, about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, in November 2019.

He appeared in the Alice Springs local court today by video link from Canberra and intends to plead not guilty.

Judge John Birch told defence counsel he was concerned about future delays in the matter.

“I note the matter first came before the court on December 12 last year,” he said.

“The more delay there is, the longer it will be in the future that an appropriate amount of time can be set aside to undertake a preliminary examination, if that’s the way the matter is to proceed this year.”

He ordered the defence to provide its witness list before July 3, and the prosecution to respond with its own list by July 17.

Additional witnesses will need to be filed by the defence by July 24.

A hard copy of evidence will be provided to the court by August 5, ahead of an August 14 court date.

The remote NT community of Yuendumu is about 300km north-west of Alice Springs.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

‘Substantive’ evidence served to defence

Prosecutor Collette Dixon told the court that “substantive” evidence had been served to Mr Rolfe’s lawyers, and that there had been requests made for further materials to be obtained by police.

The court also heard the defence was seeking a non-publication order, a move which was consented to by the prosecution.

That matter will be heard in court on July 1.

Ned Hargraves from the Justice for Walker campaign said the delays were frustrating.

“We are so anxious, we can’t wait — this will make something out of it and help [put] us at ease,” he said.

“It’s a stress really for us … I think it’s too long, but slowly, slowly it’s getting to a place where we will get what we want.

“All those times it’s pushed back … we as yappa [Warlpiri people] , we want to get it over and done with because the Kartia [non-Indigenous] system is not our system, and we have to go along with it.”

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