Police Officer Charged with Murder Over Indigenous Teen’s Death in Custody

Kumanjayi Walker, 19, died after being shot in the small community of Yuendumu on Saturday night. Now, in an unprecedented turn of events, a police officer has been charged with his murder.
November 14, 2019, 12:07am
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Image via YouTube/ntpfes

A police officer has been charged with the murder of 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker, who was shot at his home in the Indigenous community of Yuendumu, Northern Territory on Saturday night. The teenager’s death has been declared a death in custody, and NT Police released a statement last night confirming that "a 28-year-old male Northern Territory police officer has been granted bail in an out-of-session Local Court hearing to appear in Alice Springs on December 19, 2019."

"The officer has been suspended on pay,” the statement declared, adding that “as this matter is before the court, no further information will be released."

That officer has since been named as Constable Zachary Rolfe, The Guardian reports. If he is found guilty, this will be the first conviction ever recorded for murder by a police officer in relation to a death in custody.

Walker was shot at his property in Yuendumu, 266 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, at about 7PM on Saturday. Two police officers went to the property to arrest him for breaches of his suspended sentence.

“During that time a struggle ensued and two shots were fired and he [Walker] sadly passed away later,” acting deputy commissioner Michael White stated earlier this week.

White also claimed at the time that Walker lunged at one of the police officers as they tried to arrest him, noting that “my understanding is he was armed with a weapon.” Whether or not this was true, it would appear that the incident is not being treated as having occurred in self-defence.

As there were no medical staff in the small community at the time of the shooting, police provided first aid to Walker. By the time staff from the nearby Yuelamu health centre arrived at the station Walker had died from his injuries, and never received critical emergency care.. His family were not notified until hours after his death.

Rallies have been held in capital cities throughout Australia this week in the aftermath of Walker’s death, with protesters staging sit-ins near police stations and demanding answers. Protesters and supporters have been raising questions around the way police and health officials dealt with the incident, as well as their subsequent treatment of Walker’s family and the Yuendumu community.

Community members issued multiple demands including an independent inquiry into the shooting. On Tuesday, NT chief minister Michael Gunner met with Warlpiri elders at Yuendumu and promised that the coronial investigation would be independent and that “consequences will flow as a result,” according to Guardian Australia.

“Saturday night was an awful night and we will be working together for a long time about how we deal with that together,” Gunner said. “But there are important things I can promise today. One of them is to guarantee there will be an independent investigation.”

Following the announcement that Constable Rolfe had been charged, the Northern Territory Police Association said in a statement that they were “continuing to support our member who has this evening been charged with murder, as well as his family, and all other officers involved in the critical incident at Yuendumu on Saturday 9 November.”

Walker is the second Aboriginal person in the past two months to die after being shot by police. In September, 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot outside a house in Kaloo, Geraldton, and died in hospital shortly thereafter.

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