New Zealand

Australian police officer charged with murder over Aboriginal teen's death

15:49 pm on 14 November 2019

A police officer charged with murder over the shooting death of a 19-year-old in a remote NT community has been released on bail.

Kumanjayi Walker's death prompted rallies in Yuendumu on Tuesday, with more held in several major Australian cities today. Photo: Video still / Katrina Beavan

Constable Zachary Rolfe has been charged with the murder of 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker in relation to the incident.

Mr Walker was shot by a police officer in the community of Yuendumu on Saturday night.

There was no medical help at the time in the community, which is 266 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

The Yuendumu clinic was unstaffed due to safety concerns related to break-ins.

Health workers in the neighbouring community of Yuelamu, about an hour's drive from Yuendumu, pronounced Mr Walker dead at the Yuendumu police station.

Concerns over staff safety also delayed other medical help arriving from the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

The RFDS did not immediately leave for Yuendumu because it could not "confirm there was a safe and secure environment for the aircraft/crew to land".

The death has been declared a death in custody.

In a statement, Northern Territory Police said a 28-year-old police officer had been charged with Mr Walker's murder.

The statement said the officer had been granted bail in an out-of-session court hearing.

"A 28-year-old male Northern Territory police officer has been granted bail in an out-of-session Local Court hearing to appear in Alice Springs on December 19, 2019," the statement said.

"The officer has been suspended on pay.

"As this matter is before the court, no further information will be released."

Mr Walker's death prompted rallies in Yuendumu on Tuesday, with more held in several major Australian cities today.

Present at the Melbourne rally was Apryl Day, the daughter of Tanya Day, a Yorta Yorta woman whose 2017 death is currently being examined by the Victorian coroner.

On Monday, Northern Territory Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said WA Police Assistant Commissioner Nick Anticich, who is on secondment with NT Police, would lead a Professional Standards investigation into Mr Walker's death.

"All the answers that people are seeking will be known," he said.

Head of the NT Independent Commission Against Corruption Ken Fleming and the NT Ombudsman will also provide oversight to the investigation.

Speaking to the ABC in Yuendumu, Ned Hargraves, a senior elder in the community, said he was more "at ease" after the arrest.

"I am overwhelmed for the news today," he said.

"We couldn't have made it without the peoples around us right across the cities and the remote communities that have helped us to fight this.

"I am over the bloody moon.

"At least I'm more relaxed now, at ease."

Posting on Facebook after the murder charge was announced, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner called on "everyone at this extremely difficult time to be as respectful and peaceful as possible".

"As this matter is now before the court I cannot offer any commentary," Mr Gunner said.

"This is a sad time for all involved. It is a time of high emotion.

"What I can say, and what is more critical than ever to remember, is that all members of our police force serve us day in night out, keep us safe and often put themselves in harm's way.

"They will be hurting and will need our support.

"We also have many people in Yuendumu and around the Territory who are hurting and grieving.

"I ask that everyone at this extremely difficult time is as respectful and peaceful as possible.

"As Territorians we have been through challenging times before, our history shows we always support each other and we will again."

In 2016, soon after graduating to NT Police, Constable Rolfe - then a probationary constable - jumped into floodwaters to rescue two stranded tourists near Alice Springs.

His actions earned him the National Bravery Medal, the Royal Humane Society's Clarke Medal for bravery and the Hong Kong Government's Bronze Medal for Bravery.

Other media outlets have reported Constable Rolfe is a former Australian Army soldier who has served in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, rallies were held in small remote communities and major cities in solidarity with Yuendumu and Mr Walker.

Thousands marched in the nation's capitals, with a crowd of around 300 gathering in Darwin to hear from Warlpiri family members of Mr Walker before marching to Northern Territory Parliament.

A line of NT Police officers met the crowd at the top of Parliament's steps, but did not engage with protesters.