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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Confronting footage shown at Constable Zachary Rolfe’s murder trial paints a picture of panic in Yuendumu

“The footage which is about to be played is disturbing and if that is likely to cause anybody any problems, they should now leave the court.”

The warning to the public gallery is given by Justice John Burns before pieces of police body-worn camera vision are played to the murder trial of Constable Zachary Rolfe in the Northern Territory Supreme Court.

WARNING: This article contains body-worn footage of part of the shooting shown during the trial.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains an image of a person who has died.

The photograph of Kumanjayi Walker is used with permission of his family.

The key pieces of footage shown in the trial’s second week came from officers who were outside the home in which Constable Rolfe fatally shot 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker on the night of Saturday, November 9, 2019.

When the tapes roll, the courtroom is filled with three loud bangs, followed by the screams and cries of Yuendumu residents and the shouts of officers calling for help and back up.

In one, Mr Walker can be seen on a mattress on the ground, bleeding.

A Selfie Photo Of Mr Walker Taken From Facebook.
Kumanjayi Walker, 19, was fatally shot in Yuendumu in November 2019. ,Supplied: Facebook,

Prosecutors say that the first shot Constable Rolfe fired at Mr Walker that evening was legally justified. It came when Mr Walker suddenly stabbed Constable Rolfe in the shoulder with a pair of medical scissors as officers moved in to put him in handcuffs.

The second shot, fired 2.6 seconds later and the third 0.5 seconds after that, are what the Crown says constitutes murder.

Constable Rolfe has pleaded not guilty and the defense team says he was acting in defense of himself and his partner, and in line with his training, when the shots were fired.

Two weeks into a trial that’s expected to last another fortnight, jurors have watched the shooting, the lead-up to it and what happened afterwards from multiple angles.

‘Shots fired’ and the immediate aftermath

The vision from inside the house, captured on Constable Rolfe’s camera, was shown at the start of the trial.

This week the jury has seen vision from the cameras of the two officers who were both outside the home that Constable Rolfe and Constable Adam Eberl had entered in search of Mr Walker.

Senior Constable Hawkings’ camera captures the moments he arrives at the doorway of the home as Constable Rolfe fires the second and third shots.

The vision also shows Constable Rolfe and his partner handcuffing Mr Walker as officers hurriedly make plans for first aid and to move to the Yuendumu police station.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video.  Duration: 1 Minute 53 Seconds

Body-worn vision from Senior Constable Anthony Hawkings.

Another angle is captured by Senior Constable James Kirstenfeldt’s camera, who hears the shots from a distance away and grabs his shotgun from his car before running to the scene.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video.  Duration: 1 Minute 54 Seconds

Body-worn vision from Constable James Kirstenfeldt on the night of the shooting

Mr Walker died in the Yuendumu police station — where he was taken because the health clinic in the community was unstaffed — about an hour after the shooting.

The silence in the courtroom is heavy in the moments after each tape is played.

More police witnesses take the stand

On the stand, more police witnesses were pressed this week on aspects of how the shooting came to take place and what was happening when it did, as both sides build their cases about whether what unfolded was avoidable and Constable Rolfe’s actions legally justified.

Senior Constables Hawkings and Kirstenfeldt were both members of the specialist police unit sent to Yuendumu from Alice Springs that Saturday, along with Constables Rolfe and Eberl.

Constable Rolfe Arrives At The Nt Supreme Court With His Legal Team.
Constable Rolfe has pleaded not guilty to all charges laid over the shooting.,ABC News: Che Chorley,

The court has heard the Immediate Response Team (IRT) was deployed to help local officers with general duties and with the arrest of Mr Walker, who had threatened two Yuendumu constables with an axe during an arrest attempt three days earlier.

The prosecution’s case is that the Alice Springs officers ignored the local sergeant’s plan to arrest Mr Walker early the following morning — when he would likely be asleep, and a local officer who knew him could be involved — and instead set out to find Mr Walker soon after arriving that evening.

Regional commander Superintendent Jody Nobbs this week told the court that he had approved the early-morning arrest plan and considered it a way to minimize risks of violence.

But he conceded he didn’t know the team was then also told to “gather intelligence” on the 19-year-old’s whereabouts and said “common sense” would dictate that they should make an arrest if they came across him.

Both the IRT members questioned this week — Senior Constables Hawkings and Kirstenfeldt — said they did not recall an email from Yuendumu sergeant Julie Frost that detailed a plan for a 5:30am arrest.

Constable James Kirstenfeldt Leaving The Nt Supreme Court.
Immediate Response Team (IRT) member Constable James Kirstenfeldt was outside the home when the shooting happened.,ABC News: Michael Franchi,

That evidence from Senior Constable Kirstenfeldt prompted an allegation from Crown prosecutor Philip Strickland SC.

The prosecutor said the officer referenced the email when he was interviewed 12 days after the shooting and at Constable Rolfe’s committal hearing in 2020.

Mr Strickland: “Is your evidence that you don’t recall being given an email by Julie Frost and you don’t recall what its contents were — are those answers given to try and help Mr Rolfe?”

Constable Kirstenfeldt: “No, it’s because I don’t recall what was the exact content of that email.”

Senior Constable Kirstenfeldt said the email he referred to in the committal hearing was a separate one sent earlier on the same day by a different senior officer.

In his evidence, Constable Hawkings said Mr Walker was not “contained” when the second and third shots were fired. He also said he had only had a split-second view of what occurred.

The week closed with evidence from a medical expert who told the court scissors like the pair used by Mr Walker could cause fatal injury if they were used to stab someone in the neck.

Dr Keith Towsey said he believed it was the second of the three shots that killed Mr Walker, because it did the most damage to his vital organs.

Last moments spent with adoptive mother

The court also heard this week from Yuendumu community members and several members of Kumanjayi Walker’s family.

Adopted Mother Of Kumanjayi Walker, Leanne Oldfield (Right) Leaving The Supreme Court Of The Northern Territory.
Kumanjayi Walker’s adopted mother, Leanne Oldfield (right), was with him moments before he died.,ABC News: Michael Franchi,

Mr Walker’s uncle, Derek Williams, who worked as an Aboriginal Community Police Officer, described the 19-year-old as a “shy young fella” and said he himself had arrested Mr Walker a handful of times.

He told the court Mr Walker was affected by substance problems his mother had when she was pregnant with him.

An aunty to Mr Walker, Louanna Williams, said he told her he hadn’t intended on hurting anyone when he brandished the axe at local officers three days before he died.

His adoptive mother, Leanne Oldfield, told the court Mr Walker he had been with her in the front yard, looking at an old family photo, moments before police arrived.

“He was laughing at the photo … he was looking at the photo then he went inside. Soon as he went inside, I saw the police coming through the gate,” Ms Oldfield said.

The trial is continuing with a reserve juror swapped in for an original jury member, who was discharged without explanation on Tuesday.

Justice John Burns said an issue with a juror had been raised with him and dealt with, and said the parties had accepted the assurances of the remaining jury members that they could continue impartially.

The officer who was with Constable Rolfe when the struggle and shooting took place, Constable Adam Eberl, is expected to take the stand next week.


World Nation News Desk
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