NT police officer found not guilty of murder over fatal shooting of Kumanjayi Walker
Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe has been found not guilty of murdering Aboriginal teenager Kumanjayi Walker in the remote central Australian community of Yuendumu in 2019.
The jury in the NT Supreme Court trial in Darwin today brought back its verdict after seven hours of deliberations, finding Constable Rolfe not guilty of murder as well as the two alternative charges of manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death.
During the five-week trial, the court heard that Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him in Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs, on 9 November 2019.
Walker had stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors before the first shot was fired. Rolfe then fired two more shots at close range while his partner, Adam Eberl, attempted to restrain Walker on a mattress.
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The first shot was not subject to any charges, but prosecutors said the second and third shots were not legally justified because by then Eberl had effectively restrained Walker on the ground.
Rolfe’s legal team argued he was acting to defend himself and his partner and in line with his training and duties.
Addressing the media outside the court after the verdict was announced, Rolfe said he thought the right decision had been made.
“But a lot of people are hurting today — Kumanjayi’s family and his community … and I’m going to leave this space for them,” he added.
Rolfe’s words reflected the rage and grief felt by Walker’s family and supporters, many of whom had travelled to Darwin this week to hear the verdict.
“There are no winners in this case,” Rolfe’s defence lawyer David Edwardson QC told the media.
“A young man died and that’s tragic,” he said. “At the same time, Zachary Rolfe, in my view, was wrongly charged in the first place. It was an appalling investigation and very much regretted.”
As devastated family members wept on the steps of the court after the verdict, one supporter said: “We are feeling so empty that our beloved young fella has been taken away from us. I know nothing can bring him back.”
“No guns! No guns in the remote communities. We don’t want no guns,” Warlpiri elder Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves shouted into the microphones of local, national and international media. “Enough is enough. It’s got to stop! To our people let us stand strong. Let us respect each other and we do not want to see another black young fella or a girl to be shot.”
The prosecutor also acknowledged the grief of Walker’s family and community.
“We would like to acknowledge their grief and we would like to acknowledge the dignity that they have shown throughout this whole court case,” he told reporters.
“The shooting at Yuendumu raised issues, not all of which could be explored at this trial, and we anticipate that those issues and the evidence that could not be examined at this trial will be very carefully scrutinised at the inquest.”
Yesterday a group of Walker’s family members gathered at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, where the Dean, Rob Llewellyn prayed for them. Some are students at Nungalinya College, a college to train Indigenous Christians for leadership in their churches.
Constable Rolfe was the first NT police officer to face trial over an Aboriginal death in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
An Indigenous teenager is currently fighting for his life in a Darwin hospital after allegedly being shot by a police officer six times during an incident in Palmerston, just outside Darwin, earlier this week. The man was allegedly armed with a spear that he attempted to throw at the officers.