Lawyers representing NT Police officer Zachary Rolfe, charged with the murder of Kumanjayi Walker in Yeundemu late last year, have taken aim at key evidence revealed by body worn camera footage saying it “distorts reality”.
Lawyers today convened in Alice Springs Local Court to provide submissions following a three-day hearing last month to determine whether there is enough evidence to put Constable Rolfe on trial in the Supreme Court.
Representing Mr Rolfe, David Edwardson QC said the evidence of biomechanics expert, Dr Andrew McIntosh, “clearly identified several potential shortcomings”.
Footage of the attempted arrest and shooting of 19-year-old Mr Walker was played to the court during the hearing, described by the prosecutor, Phil Strickland, as of an “extreme nature”.
The footage showed the moment two officers entered Mr Walker’s house, including Mr Walker providing a false name to police, and the struggle between the officers and the deceased.
“To break down the actions of Constable Rolfe by a frame-by-frame fraction of a second by fraction of a second, distorts in our submission, the reality of the situation,” the defence said.
“It is respectfully submitted that the only way to conduct a proper assessment as to the question of self defence, and in particular the situation confronting Constable Rolfe, is necessarily in real time.”
Mr Edwardson also said the scissors Mr Walker was holding at the time of the arrest, which he had used to stab Rolfe, had “lethal capacity”.
“Where my client, Zachary Rolfe, was stabbed in the shoulder is only a short distance from his carotid artery — if Kumanjayi Walker had severed his carotid artery, Zachary Rolfe would now be dead,” he said.
Mr Edwardson pointed to evidence provided in a report by Detective Sergeant Barram which said, “Whilst Rolfe had the option to draw his Taser, spray or baton instead of his firearm…police training is that these weapons are not the best option where an edged weapon is involved due to the potential lethality of an edged weapon.”
“He acknowledged that police are taught to draw their firearm in response to an edged weapon to provide what they call lethal cover,” he said.
Mr Edwardson said police in the Northern Territory were trained to draw their firearm when “confronted with an edged weapon” and to “fire as many shots as are necessary to stop the threat and to keep firing until the threat has ceased”.
“There is not a single piece of evidence that the prosecution have adduced in this case that suggests Zachary Rolfe did anything other than comply wholeheartedly with the very training that NT Police gave him,” he said.
The prosecution today argued Rolfe and the team had disregarded careful plans made by Sergeant Julie Frost – the officer in charge of the Yuendumu police station at the time.
During the hearing, Sergeant Frost had told the court she wanted the arrest to take place at 5am on Sunday morning, as it was generally “a safer time for a high-risk arrest”.
The court had heard the IRT was supposed to be on an intelligence gathering operation on the night of the shooting.
Body worn camera footage showed the officers had been notified of the whereabouts of Mr Walker, and where he would be staying that night.
“It is clear from Mr Rolfe’s body-worn video thereafter that they were not content with that. In fact, what they wanted to do was to arrest the deceased that evening,” Prosecutor Strickland said.
“They had gathered the intelligence where the accused would be staying over the night and that was really the end of what they were required to do, in terms of intelligence-gathering.”
The Prosecution also argued Rolfe failed to comply, “wholeheartedly”, with police training in the lead up to the shots fired.
“The accused did not tell the deceased he was under arrest. I’m talking about prior to the first shot; didn’t tell him to drop the weapon, didn’t challenge him, didn’t seek his surrender.”
The Prosecution said evidence provided by Detective Sergeant Barram highlighted “the accused ought to have closed in rapidly, taken effective control of Walker, one arm each, to make an arrest without further incident”.
“Or, alternatively, step back outside the house and engage in the containment, cordon contain strategy that is part of the defensive tactics, and negotiate a peaceful solution. None of those things occurred.”
Judge John Birch adjourned the matter until October 26, where he is expected to hand down his final decision.