The second and third shots fired by Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe at Yuendumu man Kumanjayi Walker were neither reasonable nor necessary, a police training expert has told the constable’s murder trial.
- Acting Superintendent Andrew Barram told the court the first shot fired by Constable Rolfe was justified
- But he said Constable Rolfe should have then used non-lethal techniques against the 19-year-old
- The senior officer was also quizzed by the defense about a video of a US police shooting that he re-posted on Facebook
WARNING: This article contains body-worn footage 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.
Mr Walker, 19, was fatally shot three times after stabbing Constable Rolfe in the shoulder with a pair of medical scissors during an attempted arrest in the remote central Australian community in 2019.
Constable Rolfe, 30, has pleaded not guilty to murder, as well as two alternative charges in relation to the second shot fired 2.6 seconds after the first, and the third fired 0.5 seconds later.
On Tuesday, the NT Supreme Court continued hearing evidence from Acting Superintendent Andrew Barram, who previously led the operational safety section at the NT Police training college.
Under questioning from the prosecution, he said body-worn camera vision — played in both real-time and in slow motion — led him to form the opinion that the first shot was justified.
“Because [Constable Rolfe] was confronted at close range with an edged weapon — was actually stabbed with it in his shoulder — and it would have been reasonable to believe his partner was also, at that point, in danger,” he told the court.
But asked if it was reasonable or necessary to fire the second and third shots — by which time Mr Walker had fallen onto a mattress with another officer partially on top of him — Acting Superintendent Barram said it was not.
“They’d gone from a standing position in a fairly equal fight to being on the ground, with Constable [Adam] Eberl on top and pinning Mr Walker down.”
By that stage, he said Mr Walker would, at most, have “very limited ability to deploy scissors as a weapon.”
,[Shots two and three] in my opinion were unnecessary and it doesn’t appear a correct assessment of the situation was made by Mr Rolfe.”
The defense team has told the court Mr Walker was still an active threat when the shots were fired and Constable Rolfe was defending himself and his partner, in line with his training and duties.
Acting Superintendent Barram said that after the first shot, Constable Rolfe should have used non-lethal force, such as defensive tactics taught in police training.
He also told the court Constable Rolfe’s Taser was working at the time of the shooting, after yesterday saying the battery on the device was flat when he inspected it after the incident.
Court shown Facebook video of US police shooting reposted by Barram
Under cross-examination from the defense, Acting Superintendent Barram confirmed that one month prior to the Yuendumu incident he re-posted a Facebook video depicting a police shooting in the United States.
The video, which was played in court, shows body-worn camera vision of a man running at police with a knife, before he is shot multiple times after being told to drop the weapon.
The man then gets up and targets another officer, whom he pulls to the ground as he tries to get hold of the officer’s firearm, before being shot again.
The video was titled “Brings a little bit of reality into the argument” and the original post captioned “Why officers shoot until threat has stopped”.
Defense barrister David Edwardson QC told the court the US shooting was “entirely different” to the situation confronted by Constable Rolfe, in that the American officer had the benefit of time and distance on his side.
But he said the video showed the man remained a threat even after being shot multiple times.
After showing the video to the court, Mr Edwardson asked Acting Superintendent Barram about his review of the body-worn footage of the Yuendumu incident.
The officer agreed that such footage has a number of limitations, and that Constable Rolfe did not have the “luxury of pushing the pause button”.
“He had to respond instinctively and intuitively, consistent with his training, to a very dangerous and dynamic situation?” Mr. Edwardson said.
“Yes,” replied Acting Superintendent Barram.
Acting Superintendent Barram also agreed that he could not see Mr Walker’s right arm when he had fallen to the ground, and that he did not know what Constable Rolfe’s perception of the threat was when the second and third shots were fired.
He also agreed that scissors could potentially be lethal, and that once Constable Rolfe decided to fire the second and third shots, he did so by aiming at the “centre of seen mass”, which was in line with his training.
The defense will continue cross-examing Acting Superintendent Barram when the trial resumes tomorrow.