Walker shooting cop sent 'racist' messages

·3-min read

Text messages described as repugnant and racist were sent by the officer who shot dead an Indigenous man in the Northern Territory.

The messages were retrieved from the phone of Constable Zachary Rolfe, who was initially charged with the murder of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker during an arrest attempt at Yuendumu in 2019.

Const Rolfe was later acquitted on all charges after a Supreme Court trial.

At a coronial inquest into Mr Walker's death on Wednesday, counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer read a number of messages sent some months before the shooting.

In one, Const Rolfe wrote about being allowed to "towel locals up".

In another, the officer made reference to a "c***s", a term Sergeant Anne Jolley, the chief officer at Yuendumu, agreed at the inquest was blatantly racist.

Const Rolfe also referred to "Neanderthals who drink too much alcohol", which Sgt Jolley accepted was disgusting and unacceptable.

In another of Const Rolfe's messages, he was critical of the local police or "bush cops" who he wrote were "f***ing s*** house".

Sgt Jolley said such attitudes were hurtful to officers who worked really hard in their communities.

NT Police Force counsel Ian Freckelton KC said the messages were repugnant but did not represent the values of territory police.

"It is important that a misimpression not be propagated that this modest number of offensive utterances by text messages be imputed to the whole police force," he said.

"To do so would run the risk of diminishing the respect in which the force is generally held."

Walker family representative Samara Fernandez-Brown said in a statement after the hearing that the text messages among officers indicated systemic racism in the NT force and it was not just a case of "a few rotten eggs".

"If that continues to be ignored than there will never be meaningful change, and Indigenous people will continue to feel unsafe and ignored."

She called for disciplinary action over such text messages.

In earlier evidence on Wednesday, the inquest was told that Mr Walker had tried to harm himself after being taken into custody as a child, several years before his death, and that police had concerns for his mental health and wellbeing.

Sgt Jolley said she had watched the teen's health deteriorate upon his return to the remote community in 2015 after a period away.

At the time it was noted that he was constantly roaming the streets at night and engaging in disruptive behaviour.

"When I spoke to family, they just said he wasn't listening," Sgt Jolley said.

At one stage before his death, the officer expressed the opinion that Mr Walker was a "troubled young man through no fault of his own".

Asked to reflect on the lack of help provided to the teenager, Sgt Jolley said: "It appears we've let him down".

Sgt Jolley said she first had contact with Mr Walker over a local break-in when he was aged about 13.

"He was a shy person. And there was a certain fear when he saw us," she said.

"He was always quite reserved and when we've had to lock him up he got very emotional, got very teary."

The inquest was also told of a report which detailed an incident in May 2014 when Mr Walker was taken into custody.

While in a police cell, the teenager continued calling out threats to harm himself if he went to juvenile detention.

Among other actions, he twice hit his head on the wall, punched the wall several times, threatened to poke his eye out and bit his finger.

Sgt Jolley described the boy's behaviour at the time as concerning and said she feared for his wellbeing.

"I would have had the medical clinic down there as quick as I could," she said.

Sgt Jolley told the inquest that Mr Walker's death had definitely traumatised the local community.

"They are healing, but that will take time," she said.

Lifeline 13 11 14

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 (for people aged 5 to 25)