29 June 2023

Zachary Rolfe may be forced to answer coroner's questions on Yuendemu shooting

| Genevieve Jacobs

Constable Zachary Rolfe seen in body-worn camera footage before the shooting at Yuendemu in 2019. Image: Supplied.

Former police constable Zachary Rolfe may be forced to appear before a Northern Territory coroner to answer questions about a fatal shooting after an appeal on his part failed.

In 2019, then constable Rolfe shot Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker three times, causing his death, during an attempt to arrest the 19-year-old.

He was charged with murder but acquitted on all counts, including murder, manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death.

Subsequently, the Northern Territory coroner, Elisabeth Armitage, opened an inquest into Mr Walker’s death which has heard months of evidence about events on and surrounding the night of the killing.

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Evidence regarding the police culture in Alice Springs at the time of the shooting and allegedly racist texts sent by Mr Rolfe emerged at the inquest.

However, the inquest has been repeatedly disrupted by arguments about whether Mr Rolfe and another officer can refuse to provide evidence to the coroner by invoking the penalty privilege.

Mr Rolfe’s lawyers argued he could not be compelled to answer questions that may lead to disciplinary action within the police force, where he was still employed when the inquest began last year.

After the coroner initially found against his privilege claims, an NT Supreme Court hearing also found Mr Rolfe was compelled to answer questions. Earlier this year, he appealed the decision.

But the coroner’s original ruling has been upheld by both the NT Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal after it found the continued use of the penalty privilege would contradict or diminish the operation of coronial legislation.

The finding means that Mr Rolfe can now be compelled to answer questions about evidence presented at the inquest, including his actions on the night of the killing at Yuendemu, previous alleged misuse of police body cameras, previous excessive use of force, the text messages between him and other NT Police and an allegedly falsified application to join the NT Police Force.

Mr Rolfe was dismissed from the NT Police Force after publishing a lengthy statement criticising senior police leadership and the inquest. He had previously been placed on a 12-month good behaviour agreement after making what were described as “improper and unprofessional comments”. He left Australia shortly afterwards.

The inquest is due to resume in October when it will hear evidence from Mr Rolfe and Police Sergeant Lee Bauwens.

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