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NT police will investigate claims of a racist culture in the force

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NT police will launch an investigation into claims of a racist culture within the force, made by former constable Zachary Rolfe.
NT police racist culture

NT police will launch an investigation into claims of a racist culture within the force, made by former constable Zachary Rolfe.

Rolfe fatally shot 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in 2019, but was later found not guilty of the Warlpiri-Luritja man’s murder.

During an inquest into Walker’s death, Rolfe accused his former employer, the NT police force, of a racist culture.

It’s hoped the inquest will lead to findings on how similar deaths could be avoided.

Background

In November 2019, Kumanjayi Walker left an alcohol rehabilitation facility in Alice Springs to attend a family funeral. Police were instructed to arrest him.

On 9 November, he was found by two officers, Zachary Rolfe and Adam Eberl. In a scuffle, Walker stabbed Rolfe in the shoulder with a pair of surgical scissors. While Eberl was trying to restrain Walker, Rolfe shot him several times.

Walker was taken to Yuendumu police station. His family were prevented from entering the station to see the 19-year-old. He died on the floor of his cell.

Inquest

Rolfe was found not guilty in 2022. A coronial inquest was launched that year to determine the circumstances of Walker’s death, including why his family was not allowed to visit him in his cell.

The inquest examined Rolfe’s conduct as an officer but has also been investigating broader concerns about NT police.

During more than a year of hearings, the inquest has heard from witnesses including Walker’s family, police and experts.

Hearings

Rolfe appeared at the inquest into Walker’s death this week.

He was first called to give evidence 14 months ago but made legal appeals to avoid having to appear.

As part of an agreement to address the inquest this time, Rolfe was granted “self-incrimination” protection, meaning he can’t face legal consequences for certain admissions.

During his testimony, Rolfe claimed racist language was “normalised in the NT Police Force” and was used “nearly daily”.

Allegations

Rolfe provided detailed allegations of NT police’s racist culture.

This included the use of racial slurs by some high-ranking officers.

He also claimed members of the force referred to a section of an Alice Springs bar reserved for First Nations patrons as the “Animal Bar”.

“Systemic racism”

The inquest has previously heard evidence of “systemic racism” levelled towards First Nations people by NT Police.

Former NT Australian of the Year and Arrernte woman Leanne Liddle, who has 30 years of experience in the justice system, told the inquest that racism was deeply-rooted in the NT force.

Liddle said she had “lost count” of examples of racism.

Investigation

Head of NT Police Michael Murphy announced allegations of widespread racism in the force would be investigated, possibly by an independent agency.

He nominated the NT’s anti-corruption body as a possible option to oversee the investigation.

NT Police Minister Brent Potter said “racism or discrimination in any form is completely unacceptable and won’t be tolerated”.

Rolfe is expected to be the inquest’s final witness.

13 YARN: 13 92 76

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