NT Police launch racism probe after shock Rolfe claims

Zachary Rolfe told a hearing NT Police had an ingrained racist culture.

Zachary Rolfe told a hearing NT Police had an ingrained racist culture. Photo: AAP

Former Northern Territory Police constable Zachary Rolfe continues to give evidence on the death of a teenager he shot, after his claims of racism within the force prompted the commissioner to launch a probe into police culture.

Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker, 19, three times while on duty in the remote community of Yuendumu in November 2019 and was acquitted of murder in a five-week trial.

In the first day of evidence on Monday, he accused NT Police of having an ingrained racist culture.

Rolfe said racism was unacceptable, but within the force it is normalised and exhibited on an almost daily basis.

He said the NT Police Territory Response Group issued an annual award to its officers, using a derogatory name for Indigenous people.

NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy said the force will investigate Rolfe’s claims of racism but it was “too early to say” what form the inquiries would take, as police had to respect the ongoing coronial inquest.

“There will need to be an inquiry undertaken and a search for the truth to find out exactly what basis, if any, of the assertions made yesterday in the court are true or not,” Murphy told reporters on Tuesday morning.

While Murphy conceded Rolfe’s evidence would hurt the Aboriginal community, he rejected the claim that racism was widespread in NT Police.

“When I go to Alice Springs and the other stations around the Territory, I do not see those behaviours, I don’t hear those comments,” he said.

“Sometimes we don’t always get it right and there are pockets of people who make mistakes. It’s about learning from that, not just as individuals, but as an agency.”

Rolfe on Monday reflected on racist text messages he sent, shown at the inquest in 2022, saying language he used to describe Indigenous people would have caused hurt to some.

“That killed me, I’m sorry for that,” he said.

As Rolfe took to the stand on Tuesday, he continued to face questioning about his text message history and use of force as a police officer.

Rolfe’s legal team has argued questions regarding eight use-of-force incidents, his police force application and some of the racist text messages should not be admissible.

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage has been slowly dismissing the claims, compelling Mr Rolfe to answer questions about his previous history.

The court was on Monday shown body-worn footage of an incident in which Rolfe can be seen arresting a 14-year-old boy in Alice Springs.

The boy was hidden in a bin and Rolfe then closed and leaned on the lid of the bin.

He forcefully pushed the bin over and dragged the boy from it before putting him in handcuffs.

Rolfe said he had not been trained how to arrest someone in a bin.

He told the inquest about lies on his police application involving his drug use and criminal history.

He initially failed to tell police recruiters in Queensland and the NT about prior offences, including a charge of public nuisance with violent behaviour in 2011.

He was then barred from applying to Queensland Police for 10 years but was accepted into the NT force.

Rolfe has lost several challenges to avoid answering questions at the inquest which has been running for 18 months, including asking the NT coroner to step aside due to perceived bias.

His evidence is set to take all week.


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