Friday Feb 03, 2023

Kumanjayi Walker inquest to investigate cop’s drug use


An inquest into the death of an Indigenous teenager will examine if the Northern Territory police officer who fatally shot him was using drugs.

Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died on November 9, 2019 after Constable Zachary Rolfe, 30, shot him three times during an outback arrest gone wrong.

Constable Rolfe was acquitted at trial in March of murdering the teen – igniting grief and anger in his community, with some decrying the justice system as racist.

They now hope an inquest scheduled for September 5 in Alice Springs will provide an opportunity for their voices to be heard and answers the trial didn’t.

Among the 54 issues released on Thursday that coroner Elisabeth Armitage will probe is whether Constable Rolfe was suffering any health issues.

“If Constable Rolfe was suffering from a health condition or taking medication, was it appropriate for him to have been selected for and deployed to Yuendumu?” it said.

“Is there evidence that Constable Rolfe used drugs that impacted on his conduct on November 9, 2019?

“What policies and procedures are applicable if a police officer is suspected of using drugs that impact on conduct?”

The inquest will also explore if there is systemic racism or cultural bias in the NT police force and whether Mr Walker received adequate medical treatment before he died from his injuries on the floor of a police station.

Constable Rolfe’s training for use of force and firearms will also be examined, along with the force’s broader policies and procedures, and whether they were complied with when the constable was sent from Alice Springs to the remote community to arrest Mr Walker.

Evidence will also be sought about whether Constable Rolfe provided “accurate and honest” information when he applied to the police force and whether his three team members’ conduct has been the subject of any disciplinary action.

Other issues that will be canvassed will be whether the fairness or efficiency of the police force’s coronial investigation was compromised, and if Mr Walker’s family and community were adequately supported during the process.

Among the parties that will be represented at the inquest are Mr Walker’s family, the Yuendumu community, Constable Rolfe, NT Health and the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency.

Constable Rolfe’s lawyer Luke Officer raised concerns about some of the issues concerning his client, including the probe into drug use, his integrity, recruitment and any complaints or disciplinary action he may have been the subject of.

“What we don’t want is further division and this inquest requires great focus on the issues that are important … there does need to be some constraint of the issues that are raised,” he said.

Counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer said the inquest would not be an “roving royal commission” into Constable Rolfe’s actions and the focus would be on the NT Police Force response.

The force’s lawyer Ian Freckelton QC said it would work co-operatively with Dr Dwyer “in the search for a better understanding of what happened and how it can be avoided in the future”.

The NT Police Association sought leave to also appear at the inquest but Mr Freckelton raised concerns about the union’s intent, saying his client was the appropriate body to assist the inquest with evidence about the force.

“While the association is interested it doesn’t not have a distinctive additional voice on the matters … you should exercise your discretion to decline this application,” he said.

Ms Armitage reserved her decision on the police union’s inclusion in the inquest.


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