Cops to fight teen inquest evidence ruling

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Whether a coroner can force a Northern Territory police officer acquitted in the shooting murder of an Aboriginal teenager to testify at his inquest is set to be debated.

Constable Zachary Rolfe shot 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker three times during a botched arrest in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, on November 9, 2019.

A lengthy coroner’s inquest into the Warlpiri man’s death has been put on hold to allow lawyers to appear in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

They will present arguments for and against Coroner Elisabeth Armitage’s earlier ruling that she was empowered to issue police witnesses with a certificate protecting them from criminal investigation and internal disciplinary proceedings arising from their testimony.

Two police officers, Constable Rolfe and Sergeant Lee Bauwens, launched the legal review, claiming the coroner’s interpretation of the NT Coroner’s Act is incorrect.

Their lawyers believe the officers could face disciplinary action if they answer questions about some of the issues the coroner is investigating and therefore cannot be compelled to give evidence.

If the Supreme Court finds Judge Armitage’s decision was correct, it may force the men to answer uncomfortable questions about the racist text messages the inquest heard the couple allegedly sent.

Constable Rolfe is also likely to be questioned about the night he killed Mr Walker and his alleged misuse of police-worn cameras and excessive use of force.

In total, there are 14 categories of evidence that Constable Rolfe could be compelled to answer questions about, including nine incidents related to investigations into his use of force at work.

The 31-year-old can also be questioned about his allegedly homophobic and sexist text messages, as well as his use of prescription drugs and his falsified NT Police recruitment application.

The officer, who says he has been banned from all NT police stations and is on indefinite sick leave, refused to answer questions when he appeared as a witness at the investigation last week and claimed the privilege of the sentence.

‘I wish to exercise my right and claim the privilege of sanction on the ground that my answers might tend to expose me to sanction,’ he told the coroner.

The inquest into Mr Walker’s death will continue on Friday when the two-day Supreme Court hearing concludes.

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