‘Warrior’ cop failed to become ‘guardian’, inquest told

Zach Rolfe will give evidence to an inquest into the death of an Indigenous teen he shot dead.

Zach Rolfe will give evidence to an inquest into the death of an Indigenous teen he shot dead. Photo: AAP

It is not easy for a warrior to become a guardian, an inquest for an Indigenous teenager shot dead by a soldier turned Northern Territory policeman has been told.

Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died after Constable Zachary Rolfe shot him three times during a bungled arrest in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, on November 9, 2019.

Retired police commander David Proctor has told the coroner that Const Rolfe and three colleagues were undisciplined and armed with military-type weapons when they were sent to the remote community.

“It was a consequence of … the systemic failures relating to supervision, management and compliance with policies and procedures,” he said from the witness box on Friday.

Const Rolfe ignored a senior officer’s orders

Const Rolfe and his team ignored a senior officer’s orders when they searched for Mr Walker while armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and a shotgun that fired beanbag rounds.

They found the Warlpiri man in a darkened room at his grandmother’s home and two minutes later Const Rolfe fired his first shot into the teen’s back and the fatal second and third rounds into his torso as he resisted arrest.

Indigenous teenager Kumanjayi Walker was shot three times during a botched arrest by NT Police officers in a remote community. Photo: Supplied

Mr Proctor, a veteran with more than three decades on the job, wrote the NT police coronial report into Mr Walker’s death, which highlighted issues for the coroner to explore.

In it he said: “Former military personnel bring important skills, like teamwork, discipline and proficient use of weapons, but it’s not easy for ex-Australian Defence Force members to transition from warriors to guardians”.

“Their training and experience embeds a mindset that doesn’t always align well with the requirements of community policing.”

He told the coroner the assessment applied to Const Rolfe.

Officers chose to drag injured man to police vehicle

He also said it was “regretful” the officers involved in Mr Walker’s death chose to drag and not carry the gravely injured man to a police vehicle after the shooting.

He agreed with legal counsel that medical treatment would normally be carried out immediately and other options were available to the men.

Mr Proctor was also critical of police in Yuendumu for lying to Mr Walker’s family for eight hours about his condition instead of telling them he died on the police station floor about an hour after the shooting.

“That would be absolutely devastating, you’re being told he is being subject to medical treatment and then you’re contacted and asked to identify a deceased person,” he said.

“That is completely appalling. That should not have occurred under any circumstances.”

Paramilitary-style policing inappropriate

Mr Proctor said it was “unnecessary” for officers to drive an ambulance to the Yuendumu airfield to meet a Royal Flying Doctor plane – which was actually used to evacuate Const Rolfe – in an attempt to hide Mr Walker’s death.

He agreed with legal counsel that paramilitary-style policing where officers believe they are fighting a war was the opposite of community policing.

He also agreed Const Rolfe and his team’s actions did not conform with the Peelian principles for policing, which teaches crime prevention without repression.

He said the NT police force needed better monitoring of its members’ use-of-force to prevent incidents, such as Mr Walker’s death, and agreed ex-ADF personnel were more likely to use excessive force.

Mr Proctor noted in his report that Const Rolfe’s deployment to Yuendumu discriminated and disadvantaged its Indigenous residents.

The inquest continues on Monday.


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