Zachary Rolfe: body-worn video of shooting shown in court

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By KIERAN FINNANE

In repeated replays and different versions the Alice Springs Local Court today watched and heard the dying minutes in the life of Kumanjayi Walker.

The evidence came from three members of the Immediate Response Team (IRT) and their body-worn video, showing what happened on November 9 last year when they went to arrest the 19-year-old, following his confrontation with local police at Yuendumu three days earlier, during which he had threatened those officers with an axe. 

The fourth IRT member was Constable Zachary Rolfe, who has been accused of Kumanjayi Walker’s murder.

He intends pleading not guilty to the charge. Today was the second in his committal proceedings, which will determine whether there is enough evidence for him to face trial.

The footage from Const Rolfe’s own body-worn camera showed Mr Walker, seemingly quiet, walking towards police inside house 511 at Yuendumu.

He was dressed in a blue t-shirt, with the shiny red strap of a back-pack across his chest.

He told IRT officers Adam Eberl and Rolfe that his name was Bernard Dixon (earlier reported as Benedict Dixon). They told him to stand against the wall while they compared his face with a photo of him on a mobile phone.

He started to become agitated. A violent scuffle broke out.

Within seconds Mr Walker was on the ground, pinned there by Const Eberl.

He was front down, face to one side. Const Eberl was aware he had an edged or pointed object of some sort in his right hand.

He gave evidence that Mr Walker’s right arm was under his body, although that later was put in some doubt by other evidence.

After a first shot was fired, described as “dull” in sound, a “thud”, Mr Walker continued to struggle and Const Eberl said he realised the edged object was a pair of scissors.

Other footage showed more intense struggle, and Const Rolfe could be heard saying Mr Walker had scissors and was stabbing him and Const Eberl.

Two more shots were fired. Still Mr Walker was struggling, according to Const Eberl’s evidence. On the video, he could be heard saying: “Stop fighting.” 

Const Eberl agreed with defence counsel that it was him who also said, “Don’t fuck around, I’ll fucking smash you, mate”. And that even after three shots had been fired he didn’t have control of the scissors and Mr Walker was saying “I’m going to kill you mob”.

On footage from outside the house (Const Anthony Hawkings’ body-worn camera) a lot of screaming could be heard, including women’s voices.

Inside, on the footage from Const Eberl and Rolfe, Mr Walker could be heard crying, not screaming, almost whimpering. On footage from the doorway he could be seen being held up by both officers, his legs dragging, his head and body sagging forwards.

In footage from Const Hawkings outside the Yuendumu police station, to where Mr Walker must have been taken by car, it was apparent that he was on the ground and the IRT members were attempting to give First Aid, some crouched over him.

“Two towels here,” one could be heard saying. Mr Walker was still softly crying.

Const Hawkings responded to questions about his statement given on 13 November last year, in which he said he saw Const Rolfe “place his Glock [pistol] into [Mr Walker’s] torso” and fire at point blank range or close to.

From Const Hawkings’ body-worn video, Const Rolfe could be seen crouching over Mr Walker as he fired.

The footage was distressing to watch and, at the suggestion of the prosecuting counsel, Judge John Birch, on each occasion that the critical moments were played, warned those seated in the court to leave if they wanted to.

A lot of the other evidence of the IRT witnesses went to their understanding of their deployment to Yuendumu on the fateful day.

All three gave evidence that their focus was the arrest of Mr Walker.

All three had little recall of the duties Sgt Julie Frost had wanted them to undertake – high visibility policing in the community to deter break-ins, and coverage of call-outs that night – nor of her advised plan to have Mr Walker arrested at 5.30am on Sunday morning.

Their evidence was that soon after arriving in Yuendumu in the early evening of Saturday and after having a brief discussion and orientation in the police station, they went out in search of Mr Walker.

Before departure from Alice Springs, they had watched together footage of the “axe incident” of 6 November.

Const Eberl gave a very detailed account of what he saw on that video and expressed the view that he was surprised the local police had not used their firearms in response, not necessarily to shoot, but to “stop the threat”.

He recalled his actual words at the time were: “Wow, I’m surprised they did not shoot him!” 

Instead the officers had appeared frozen, it was put to him by defence counsel. He agreed – that was why the IRT had been called upon.

At Yuendumu, his body-worn video showed a woman carrying a wailing infant approaching him in the yard of the house where Mr Walker would be shot.

She wanted to know why his fellow officer, Const Hawkings, was carrying a gun (it was an AR15 semi-automatic rifle, part of his IRT “kit”).

Const Eberl said to the woman that they (police) all carry guns and they were not aiming to shoot anyone.

Then he told her: “Someone shouldn’t run at police with an axe, yeah?”

All three were asked about their training in relation to use of force.

All agreed that “knife equals gun” is the catchphrase but what happens after the gun is drawn, that is, whether it is fired, depends on how events unfold – essentially, whether or not the offender submits to their directions.

Const James Kirstenfeldt was asked about his military background.

It arose because on his body-worn footage Const Rolfe could be heard saying: “We’re just going to clear this house”, which the prosecuting counsel put to him is a military expression.

Const Kirstenfeldt told the court he had served for 13 years, including overseas service in East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and Malaysia.

The hearing continues, with expert evidence scheduled for tomorrow and Friday morning. No civilian witnesses from Yuendumu will be called during these proceedings, although if the case gets to trial, up to 56 are on the witness list.

Most of the community members again stayed outside the court today, gathering on the lawns opposite. Emotions amongst them are running high, not all of it to do with the proceedings and the tragic event leading to them.

 

Photo: A low-key police presence includes some in plain clothes on the courthouse lawns where Yuendumu families and supporters are gathering during the committal.

 

Last updated, additional detail, 3 September 2020, 7.07am

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