Australia policeman faces court over Indigenous man’s death

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian court began hearing arguments Tuesday in the case of a police officer accused of murdering an Indigenous man during an attempted arrest in an Outback township, including that the officer was treated for stab wounds after the shooting.

The four-day hearing in the Alice Springs Local Court will determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to warrant that constable Zachary Rolfe stand trial on a charge of murdering Kumanjayi Walker last year.

Rolfe has denied wrongdoing but has not been asked yet to enter a plea. He would face a potential life sentence if convicted of murder.

Rolfe appeared by video from his hometown of Canberra, where he has lived while free on bail since Walker was killed in Yuendumu in central Australia on Nov. 9 as police attempted to arrest him for a breach of a court order.

The 19-year-old’s death was protested at rallies around Australia that followed the death in police custody of George Floyd, a Black man, in the United States in May.

Judge John Birch did not hear evidence on Tuesday of the moments surrounding Walker’s fatal shooting.

Sergeant Jeshua Kelly told the court he visited Rolfe in Alice Springs Hospital after the shooting. Rolfe said: “I’m OK. I’ve got this stab wound,” Kelly testified.

Kelly said he thought Rolfe would be back at work within a week. Instead, Rolfe was charged with murder.

“If we’re faced with an edged weapon, we draw our firearm,” Kelly said, referring to Northern Territory Police training.

Rolfe was part of a four-member elite Immediate Response Team that drove 290 kilometers (180 miles) from Alice Springs to Yuendumu to arrest Walker. Police dog handler Adam Donaldson told the court the team was deployed for “violent targets.”

The court was shown video from a body-worn police camera of Walker rushing at two officers with an ax during a failed attempt to arrest him three days before he was killed.

“It was extremely dangerous and I was surprised no one was hurt,” Donaldson said of the video.

Alice Springs is in the Northern Territory, which has closed its borders to keep out the coronavirus.

The hearing continues on Wednesday.

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