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Anger as NT cop objects to inquest scope

It is disappointing lawyers for the Northern Territory policeman who fatally shot an Indigenous teenager did not raise objections about an inquest into his death sooner, the counsel assisting the coroner says.

Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker died after Constable Zachary Rolfe shot him three times in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs on November 9, 2019.

An inquest that started on Monday in Alice Springs is exploring the actions of police before and after Mr Walker, 19, was killed.

It has also planned to probe for evidence of systemic racism in the NT police and aspects of Const Rolfe’s service, including his training and use of force.

But those issues may need to be withdrawn after lawyers for the constable last week objected to 13 questions about his recruitment, training, supervision and use of force being investigated by the coroner, after initially agreeing they could be explored.

Counsel assisting the coroner Peggy Dwyer said she would respond to the application on Friday, after expressing frustration with the situation.

“It is a great shame that those objections came so late when so much care was taken by those assisting Your Honour to list this matter on a number of occasions previously so that these issues could be identified and understood by all members of the community,” she said.

“Particularly by Kumanjayi’s family.”

Dr Dwyer said Const Rolfe had also objected to questions about whether he provided accurate and honest information during his recruitment.

“He (also) objects to Your Honour hearing evidence on the issue on whether some police officers in Alice Springs discriminated against Aboriginal people … and whether in effect that increased the chance of abuse of force on the ninth of November, 2019.”

She said the objections extended to the coroner hearing evidence related to racism or cultural bias in the NT police force and Const Rolfe’s use of force of history.

“And whether any inappropriate behaviour as been condoned, overlooked or excused by supervisors,” she said.

“He disputes that this may be relevant to Your Honour’s power to make findings or recommendations.”

It comes after the lawyer for the NT Police Force, Ian Freckelton QC, raised concerns in court about media reporting by some media related to the inquest.

He told the court that online news provider, the NT Independent, had published articles quoting Const Rolfe’s father Richard that attempted to intimidate some inquest witnesses.

“That is exactly what is happening with the NT Independent on multiple occasions,” Mr Freckelton told the court.

“A particular person who has been the target of the campaign, which appears to be a combined campaign on behalf of Richard Rolfe and the NT Independent … is Sergeant Julie Frost,” Mr Freckelton said.

“This Your Honour is not constructive or accurate reporting,” he said.

Sgt Frost was the officer in charge in Yuendumu when Mr Walker was killed.

Mr Freckelton said the attacks extended to other NT police including Commissioner Jamie Chalker.

“These are inflammatory and for the most part utterly inaccurate portrayals,” he told the court.

“They are incompatible with responsible journalism and they are such as to have a significant impact upon persons who are required to give evidence here.”

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