OPINION: The only way any form of justice for Kumanjayi Walker will be achieved is for all of us to look beyond the distraction the NT Police executive has created and start demanding answers for how this tragic incident unfolded and how the decisions made by those in positions of power led to it.
The executive management team has deviously and effectively managed to split the community among racial divides by producing a strawman for all of its failings in the form of Constable Zach Rolfe.
Yes, Zach Rolfe pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Kumanjayi Walker, but how did he end up in that house in Yuendumu getting stabbed by Walker before shooting him?
It is absolutely crucial that the upcoming coronial inquest is independent and that the NT Police and the now Fyles Government cannot have any influence in it or there will be no justice for anyone.
The coroner announced this week she will look into a number of serious issues including the failed police processes that led to Walker’s death, but this needs to be done with independent investigators – not those assigned by the NT Police executive.
Remember, this is what the previous chief minister Michael Gunner promised all those years ago when he stood in front of the grieving Yuendumu community just three days after the shooting as emotions ran high and said: “The coroner will investigate and I can promise you that that investigation will be independent and the consequences will flow as a result of that investigation.”
It was a dumb comment said in the moment to ease tensions and erroneously implied guilt on Rolfe before the investigation was even close to being finished.
But this was how Gunner, then-police minister Nicole Manison and Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker and his band of executives had planned it as they flew into Yuendumu to confront the community.
They needed to take the heat off themselves when they entered that hotbed of emotion. And so, before they landed, the Northern Territory heard the name Zachary Rolfe for the first time as the police officer who shot dead a 19-year-old Indigenous man in his home.
It was ultimately leaked on social media by a relative of an NT Police officer, along with a photo of Rolfe so that the community of Yuendumu could have someone to direct their anger at while the police commissioner said nothing and let a politician placate the crowd with empty promises.
As we saw during the Supreme Court murder trial, there are a lot of issues with the police deployment and response. We have also seen huge operational errors made by the NTPOL executive prior to sending Rolfe and the Immediate Response Team to Yuendumu, in total breach of extensive amounts of internal NTPOL procedures and General Orders.
Despite all of this being known by the NTPOL and the NTG, the answer was to still arrest and charge Rolfe before the investigation was finished to convince the public to direct their rage at Rolfe.
NT Police’s narrative of Rolfe as ‘racist cop’ worked, evidence to the contrary was buried
This morally corrupt and disgusting plan worked an absolute treat for the powers responsible to hide behind. They successfully altered everyone’s view on the matter and divided the general public while the incident was played along a “Black Lives Matter” narrative.
We didn’t see NT Police executives splashed in media all around the globe or any fingers pointed at the management team, they all pointed steadily at an implied racist cop who wanted to kill an Aboriginal man.
This is why as soon as the arrest occurred and before any of the detectives could actually ascertain all of the incorrect NTPOL procedures carried out before Rolfe was deployed to Yuendumu, they were all forced to sign non-disclosure documents.
This was done so that when the detectives discovered all of the NTPOL management errors, they would be legally forbidden from discussing them.
This is also why, as soon as Rolfe was charged and bailed, the condition on his bail was that he reside in Canberra. This cut Rolfe off from any access to NTPOL staff, limited local media and effectively cut him off from any communications with his colleagues.
This also enabled the NTPOL management to track Rolfe’s phone and messenger accounts, which saw multiple officers issued Section 79 disciplinary notices for contacting Rolfe over the past two years. Some have been disciplined just for sending messages to Rolfe along the lines of, “Hi mate hope you’re well, if you need anything just give me a yell”.
This was to completely isolate Rolfe and keep the blame focused on him whilst the police executive cleaned house, so to speak.
And it also led to the Pollock report debacle.
Scott Pollock is one of the NT’s most professional, intelligent and moral detectives NT Police has ever seen and whose report was exactly all of those things.
Pollock’s coronial report highlighted the multiple management related issues and failures and was in the process of finding no cause for any criminal action against Rolfe.
What was the executive’s response to this you ask? Hide the report, of course. Pollock was forced onto indefinite stress leave and another superintendent was brought in to write a second coronial report, being the Proctor report.
It was only after someone leaked the existence of the Pollock report to Rolfe’s legal team that the public was finally made aware of it. Now, for the first time in NT Police history we have two coronial files completed for the one death. It will most likely not be a shock when you learn that the second coronial file completely negates the first one.
Since that date we have seen record numbers of senior police resign, be forced off on disciplinary matters or take early retirements.
We have seen the top two directors in the Office of the DPP also resign and leave the NT. Senior and well-respected detectives who were against the motivated charging of Rolfe have also resigned or taken leave of absences due to stress.
What role did senior police on the ground in Yuendumu play?
We have also seen from the body worn footage and the criminal trial that one of the police staff at Yuendumu had 16 years experience as a nurse prior to becoming a police officer. In the video footage made public, she appeared not to have rendered any medical attention to Walker as he lay in the police station dying. Furthermore, as the Sergeant in charge of the station and knowing there were no medical staff in the community, it appears from documented evidence that she had not ascertained if they had a working defibrillator or first aid kit in the station, which is the responsibility of the Station Sergeant.
We also learnt that this same Sergeant had the axe used by Walker just two days prior against two police officers returned to his family before Rolfe and the team arrived and did not even mention it to the IRT before they went out in the community to locate Walker.
This same Sergeant admitted in the Supreme Court trial to intentionally not telling the truth in some of her evidence.
Now you might ask, has this officer been stood down, served disciplinary notices for any of these breaches? No, she hasn’t. It seems you get punished if you send a text to Rolfe asking if he’s ok, but providing misleading evidence in connection to a murder trial is not grounds for disciplinary action – and will actually see you promoted.
Still after all of this, the ABC and other media outlets remain focused on the racist cop narrative, ensuring that the focus is kept on Rolfe and not on the department. Look no further than the sensational NT News headline this week that the coroner is investigating whether Rolfe had used drugs before the shooting – an issue never raised by anyone before now.
After the not guilty verdict, Chalker offered the empty promise that all of our questions will be answered and the truth known once the coronial investigation is completed. Again, this statement of his is not worth anything and highlights serious concerns for the public.
How can the police commissioner, whose senior staff ordered the arrest against proper procedures be so sure that the truth will come out of the coronial where NT Police officers will be assisting and where we already have two different, conflicting reports?
The other major concern is our Police Commissioner inferring that a Supreme Court trial where over $10 million of taxpayer money was spent and 12 members of a jury found Rolfe to be not guilty within two hours of deliberation was not able to approach “the truth”.
Warning bells should be going off with all Territorians that we are about to head into a coronial inquest where:
- We have two conflicting NTPOL coronial reports (unprecedented)
- No independence which Gunner promised
- Top two Senior DPP staff have resigned
- Leading senior detectives in the Rolfe investigation have resigned and left
- Rolfe has been acquitted
- Our Commissioner is now saying the Supreme court trial didn’t show the truth which only he is apparently aware of
- Senior NTPOL staff who it seems have had to leak their notes and reports to ensure justice is done
- Detectives in the case all sworn to silence
- Multiple officers who agreed to testify and conduct the enquiries in line with NTPOL exec’s wishes getting promoted very quickly (one went from Sgt to Commander in just 3 months).
We cannot allow this Coronial inquest to be undertaken and completed without independent investigators, which is exactly what the former chief minister promised the people of Yuendumu three days after Mr Walker’s tragic shooting death, but has not delivered by any objective measure.
The ongoing display of police bullying attempts to hide the truth, attempts to silence all investigators and the public media campaigns against Zach Rolfe should be making people concerned that the “truth” will be the last thing anyone sees out of all of this.
The only way to now get real Justice for Walker and Rolfe is for all of us to open our eyes and see we have all been manipulated into thinking this was two individuals’ paths tragically colliding and resulting in a fatal shooting. This is much bigger than that.
Rolfe pulled the trigger, but why his IRT boots were even on the ground in Yuendumu is the real question we need answered.
The coronial inquest should not be allowed to continue without independent investigations and full disclosures.
Carey Joy is a former NT Police officer who worked in the Territory Response Group (TRG), led the Immediate Response Team’s (IRT) initial task force, and was also a federal agent in the Tactical Response Team (TRT), a national and international police tactical group working on deployments around Australia and overseas. His last five years in law enforcement were in Alice Springs with the NT Police as a general duties shift sergeant and bomb technician for the Central Region. He resigned in 2016 to start his own company.