6 September 2022

Questions remain in story of Kumanjayi Walker and Zachary Rolfe, coroner says at inquest

| Albert McKnight
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Constable Zachary Rolfe

Constable Zachary Rolfe was acquitted over the death of Kumanjayi Walker. Photo: File.

CONTENT WARNING: Readers are advised this article contains content some may find distressing.

While Canberra’s Zachary Rolfe was cleared of all charges over the death of Kumanjayi Walker, a coronial inquest has heard there is still much more to learn.

“At the start of this inquest, I ask myself this question – do I know the story of Kumanjayi Walker and Constable Zachary Rolfe? Do you?” Judge Elisabeth Armitage said as the inquest began in Alice Springs on Monday (5 September).

Judge Armitage, the corner for the inquest, said many people had seen the media coverage of the Supreme Court trial earlier this year, read reports of his acquittal and seen the body camera footage of the shooting.

“You might wonder whether there is anything more to say,” she said.

“During this inquest, I am inviting everyone to look a little deeper and listen a little longer because I think there is more to learn from, and more we need to try and understand about this story.”

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Judge Armitage asked: “What did it sound and feel like for Kumanjayi’s family when they heard those three gunshots?”

She said after he was shot, he was “dragged” past his family to Yuendumu’s police station, where he was locked inside while his family and community members were locked outside.

While there was footage of officers trying to help Mr Walker, she said there was nothing from the perspective of those locked outside.

“But we do know that they were all prevented from being with Kumanjayi as he passed away,” she said.

Judge Armitage said in order to understand this story, she wanted to learn why the police station’s doors were locked that night, as well as to hear from those outside the station to hear about events from their perspective.

“Are there examples of policing where the risk of this kind of confrontation can be minimised or even avoided altogether?” she asked.

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Judge Armitage said Mr Walker threatened two police officers with an axe in the days before he was killed, but those officers backed away and no one was hurt.

Also, the trial verdict showed Constable Rolfe was not guilty of any crime when he fired his pistol.

She said on any given day, police officers might be confronted and threatened by an armed person, and in each case, the officer has to decide how to respond, sometimes in a split second.

“In each case, there is likely to be a range of possible responses, de-escalation, no or minimal force, and potentially up to and including lethal force,” she said.

“Out of a wide range of possible choices, how is an officer to make the best and most appropriate choice?

“Are the guidelines and training adequate and sufficient to ensure police are equipped to make good choices in high-risk situations?”

The inquest is expected to continue until 25 November.

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“Judge Armitage said Mr Walker threatened two police officers with an axe in the days before he was killed, but those officers backed away and no one was hurt.”

I’m wondering whether the Judge will also look at what might have happened had the officers not backed away and had arrested him there and then.

Because clearly someone was hurt from the incident, it just didn’t happen at that moment.

In this case, it was only the person being arrested but what happens when police or the judiciary take a softer approach and others are hurt because of that approach?

Something we’ve seen regularly lately with people out on bail or repeat offenders hurting other innocent members of the public.

“I’m wondering …. what might have happened had the officers … arrested him there and then.”

Don’t want to look at any other day in the lives of either Mr Walker or Constable Rolfe?

Perhaps Mr Walker should have been arrested at birth. One does not want too soft an approach.

No, no, no you’ve got it all wrong.

No one should ever be arrested ever because the punishment is clearly too harsh and criminals actions are solely the result of circumstances outside of their control.

And obviously as the bodycam footage shows, he was just trying to go outside and cut some firewood on that day.


Your original comment was absurd by its isolation, worthy of satire. Adding fuel to the fire does not help you.

I will await the coroner’s report.

Not even remotely correct Phydeaux and your reply was extraordinarily inane and deserving of the same type of response in its ridiculousness.

My original comment referred to the only other police interaction mentioned in the article by the coroner. It is both temporally and materially relevant to this case and then to the wider commentary around police interactions with alleged perpetrators that they are trying to arrest. Along with how that impacts on our communities as a whole.

“I’m wondering whether the Judge will also look at what might have happened….“
I am confident the judge will look at all relevant material, and not indulge your selective bias or tendentious speculation. You will recall from the trial of Zachary Rolfe that Walker dropped the axe and ran away, and that the experienced officers did not think he would use it, did not draw weapons.

You are speciously beating Laura Norder’s drum.

I will await the coroner’s report. Why won’t you?

For someone claiming to want to wait for the coroner’s report, you sure do a lot of commenting.

I’m fairly confident that the coroner will look at all relevant information also, whether they consider it holistically and weigh up competing interests and rights is another matter. It’s also something perfectly reasonable to have a differing opinion on and debate considering the issues are readily transferable to more than just this incident.

I also think it’s ironic that you think I’m engaging in speculative bias when that is exactly what the entire article is written as, with a specific tone and selectively chosen snippets from the coroner’s statements as to what’s important and needs review.

My original comment was aimed at a hope that the coroner would look at the issue more deeply considering all sides. And I used a specific example used in the article as a counterpoint to the message being portrayed here.

I have an opinion on the issue, yours may differ but it’s really irrelevant as you apparently don’t want to comment on it.

Except to stand back and tell me I’m wrong of course.

You are wrong, of course.

I am unconcerned with the article but with your original comment, so do not bother with that distraction.

You hung a “soft on crime” opinion onto a single event in the life thread of Walker (and implicitly Rolfe), ignoring all other events in those threads. That alone is absurd as I first pointed out, but it becomes sillier when we note that Walker ran away, sans axe. So, how should those “soft” police have reacted at the time? Saved a day by shooting him then? Was it the victim’s fault he was later shot anyway?

My comments are entirely on your initial error, your spurious comment on the case, so why did you not wait for the Coroner’s report; that Coroner (a Judge) about whom you are already sowing seeds of distrust for whether their competence will meet the standards of your personal opinion?

Still commenting I see, almost like your original comment was completely disingenuous.

“You hung a “soft on crime” opinion onto a single event in the life thread of Walker (and implicitly Rolfe), ignoring all other events in those threads”

Not remotely correct. I took a specific part of the article and provided a counterpoint to the message portrayed both within that event and the wider article.

I neither implicitly or explicitly ignored anything else, that’s simply your strawman extrapolation used to try and make your own opinion known whilst claiming some form of aloof objectivity.

And your point becomes more ridiculous when we note that Walker only dropped the axe and ran away once he had cleared the house and the police trying to detain him.

So (to engage in your type of extrapolation) perhaps if police always let criminals escape, no one would ever be hurt.

Yes questions indeed Young Zach!!!

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