Rolfe to testify at ‘overdue’ Kumanjayi Walker inquest

Zachary Rolfe faces his final day of questioning at an inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker.

Zachary Rolfe faces his final day of questioning at an inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker. Photo: AAP

The inquest into Indigenous teenager Kumanjayi Walker’s death will resume with the police officer who shot him unable to legally dodge being questioned about his conduct.

But former constable Zachary Rolfe has forecast he will make several attempts to avoid self-incrimination on an array of matters.

Rolfe shot the 19-year-old three times while on duty in the remote Northern Territory community of Yuendumu in November 2019, but was acquitted of murder in a five-week trial.

NT Coroner Elisabeth Armitage’s investigation into Walker’s death – due to resume on Thursday – began in September 2022 and has been marred by delays.

Rolfe had failed in court challenges to avoid giving evidence.

But in documents released late on Wednesday, his lawyer foreshadowed claims against self-incrimination on issues of potentially unlawful use of force, illegal drug use and fraudulent conduct.

“It is not expedient for the purposes of justice for Rolfe to be compelled to answer questions,” the lawyer said.

“It cannot be reasonably suggested that the topics identified … could rationally inform the assessment of (the inquest’s core issue), which is specific to the events leading up to the death of Kumanjayi Walker.”

Walker’s family has continually called on Rolfe to answer questions about the teenager’s death.

“Zachary Rolfe finally fronting the coronial inquest into our cousin’s death is a significant moment for our families on our journey towards justice,” cousin Samara Fernandez-Brown said in a statement.

“Rolfe must answer for his actions … there is no moving forward without full truth and accountability.”

The coroner is now able to compel Rolfe to answer questions about racist text messages the inquest was told he sent.

Rolfe previously refused to answer questions on the grounds they may expose him to disciplinary action while he was in the force.

Judge Armitage ruled witnesses could not decline to answer questions and appeals by Rolfe in the NT Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were unsuccessful.

Two weeks out from the scheduled resumption of the inquest in October, Rolfe’s lawyer applied for the coroner to consider recusing herself on the grounds of apprehended bias.

Armitage dismissed the application, saying she would not be stepping aside.

“I am not persuaded that a fair-minded lay observer might reasonably apprehend that I might not bring an impartial mind to the resolution of the issues arising,” she said.

Though the application was unsuccessful, Armitage said she didn’t have time to sift through the hundreds of pages of submissions in time for the October sitting.

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency head lawyer Jared Sharp said justice for Walker’s family was “overdue”.

“They deserve to know the full truth about how and why their loved one died,” he said.

“It is time for Rolfe to take the stand in this inquest and provide answers on his actions.”

There are 14 categories of evidence Rolfe could be forced to answer questions about, including nine incidents related to investigations over his use of force on the job.

The 31-year-old may also be asked about his allegedly homophobic and sexist text messages, along with his prescription drug use and his falsified NT police recruitment application.

Sergeant Lee Bauwens, who was in charge of the team deployed to Yuendumu to find Mr Walker, is due to testify on Thursday.

Rolfe, the inquest’s final witness, is set to begin his evidence on Monday.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905


Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.