Warning: This story contains graphic, racist and offensive descriptions of a deceased First Nations person of Australia heard in court.
In November 2019, Kumanjayi Walker was shot three times by Zachary Rolfe, a police officer who was later acquitted of his murder, during an attempted arrest in the Northern Territory.
Now, an inquest into the 19-year-old Warlpiri man’s death has heard Rolfe exchanged a string of “racist and disgusting” texts about Aboriginal people in the months prior.
The texts, which were read out at the three-month inquest in Alice Springs on Wednesday, saw Rolfe describe Aboriginal people as “coons”, and “neanderthals who drink too much alcohol”. In some exchanges, police officers were by the inquest to have sent Rolfe messages describing Aboriginal people as “n-----” and “grubby fucks”.
In March this year, Rolfe was found not guilty of Walker’s murder, along with two alternative charges of manslaughter and engaging in a violent act causing death, after a five week-long trial in Darwin’s supreme court. Not a single member of the jury that acquitted Rolfe was Aboriginal, despite making up more than 30 percent of the territory’s population.
The court heard that Rolfe shot Walker three times in rapid succession from close range after being stabbed with scissors.
The first shot didn’t carry any charges, but the second, which was fired a couple of seconds later, and the third, which came half a second after that, carried charges which Rolfe defended on the grounds that he feared for the life of his former partner, Adam Eberl, who had Walker pinned down on a mattress.
Months later, an inquest investigating the circumstances of Walker’s death would hear texts from Rolfe, read aloud by assisting counsel to the coroner, Peggy Dwyer, which she would later brand “racist” and “shocking”.
On April 9, Rolfe received a text from another officer, which said, “I’m sick of Aboriginals tonight,” before saying she might have been “super hangry”. In a reply, Rolfe said, “Hate that. Oi, if you’re hungry, you’re definitely allowed to towel locals up.”
The other officer replied, “If your last name rhymes with Olf, you’re allowed to towel up locals.” Rolfe replied, “I do have a licence to towel locals. I like it.”
Earlier this week, the coroner Elisabeth Armitage palmed off police arguments that systemic racism had nothing to do with Walker’s death, and will consider whether racism was a factor and if the texts heard could be used as evidence.
In another flurry of texts on April 27, another officer texted Rolfe saying he heard the day before had been “rough”. “Grubby fucks,” the officer said. Rolfe replied: “Nah bra, just slightly annoying. Haha. Coons man,” the inquest heard.
Dwyer read the string of text exchanges to Sergeant Anne Jolley of the Northern Territory police force.
“Do you agree with me, Sergeant, that it is shocking to hear a serving member of the police force, in 2019, use that blatantly racist, disgusting term to refer to an Aboriginal person?”
After describing further texts from Rolfe, where he calls local Aboriginal people “neanderthals,” Dwyer asked Jolley if she agreed that the descriptions were “disgusting and disgraceful and wholly unacceptable?”
“That’s disgusting,” Jolley replied.
The lawyer representing the Northern Territory police force took a moment to rule out casting all officers with the same brush. He said the texts heard were “repugnant”.
“We reiterate the position which we expressed yesterday. This is not an inquiry into whether sectors of the police force have racist attitudes,” Ian Freckleton KC said.
Rolfe has yet to appear before the inquest to give evidence.
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