NT cop 'had the devil in his eyes'

·3-min read

A Northern Territory police officer, acquitted of murder over the shooting of an Indigenous teenager "had the devil in his eyes" during an unrelated and earlier arrest of another man, an inquest has been told.

In rulings over the admissibility of evidence in her inquiry into the death of Kumanjayi Walker in 2019, coroner Elisabeth Armitage has provided details of statements by the former partner of the officer involved in the shooting, Constable Zachary Rolfe.

In one of those statements, which Ms Armitage said she would receive into evidence, Claudia Campagnaro detailed an earlier incident in January 2018 when a man was arrested and later charged with assault.

Ms Campagnaro said she and another police officer had interviewed the man who could "barely understand English".

"He just kept saying to Fish and I, 'the police office(r) just had the devil in his eyes. I was punched in the head', and 'I have not done anything wrong'," the statement said.

Ms Campagnaro said Const Rolfe later told her he had punched the man in the face a few times while he was on the floor.

The man was later acquitted with a judge finding aspects of Const Rolfe's account of the incident untrue, wrong and a pure fabrication.

Also in her statement, Ms Campagnaro wrote that Const Rolfe had told her that he was "always the first to get his gun out".

Ms Armitage said she did not have a view on whether the evidence of Ms Campagnaro should be accepted as credible or reliable.

"There may well be significant issues with her credibility and her reliability as a witness, or the interpretation of her evidence," the coroner said.

"However, at this stage, the evidence is rationally capable of acceptance, the interpretations are seemingly open, and the accounts are relevant to the inquiries I am undertaking."

The inquest in Alice Springs is exploring 54 issues related to the life of Mr Walker and the actions of police before and after he was killed.

The 19-year-old Warlpiri man died after Const Rolfe shot him three times during an arrest attempt in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs.

Const Rolfe was later charged with murder but was acquitted after a Supreme Court trial.

In her ruling on Tuesday, Ms Armitage also found she could accept into evidence text messages from the phone that belonged to Const Rolfe despite objections from his counsel, David Edwardson KC, who argued the examination of the phone was unlawful.

Ms Armitage said those submissions were misconceived and said if the messages showed evidence of racism within the police Immediate Response Team and racism was found to have played a role in Mr Walker's death, then they would relevant to the inquest.

At the same time, the coroner criticised the timing of Mr Edwardson's applications.

"In my view, these were objections that could, and should, have been made months ago," she said.

"The extensive brief was and is being served in a very timely manner. The evidence now the subject of objection has been available to the parties for some time.

"Over the last week or so, no less than 13 sets of written submissions have been drafted and filed and more than two sitting days have been required for legal argument and this decision.

"All of that time - in court and out - should have been dedicated to the substantive progress of the inquest."

The inquest will resume on Wednesday.