Australian cop cleared over fatal shooting of Indigenous teen
The verdict has been met with criticism and rage by the teen's relatives and elders.
An Australian police officer was acquitted of murder Friday after fatally shooting an Indigenous teenager, a decision that enraged families and elders who were disturbed by the high incidence of Aboriginal fatalities in custody.
This is the first time an Australian police officer has ever been convicted of murder in connection with the death of an Indigenous person in custody.
Since 1991, more than 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons have died in jail, including at least 11 deaths in the previous seven months.
Zachary Rolfe, the officer in question, was found not guilty of murder in the death of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker on November 9, 2019, ruling that all three rounds fired by the officer in a rural hamlet were lawful.
Rolfe was also acquitted on lesser counts of manslaughter and a violent act resulting in death.
As family members wept outside the court, Walker's cousin Samara Fernandez-Brown told reporters they were "deeply saddened by the result and cannot put our grief into words."
She vowed the family would not end their struggle and expressed that "though we've been given a trial, I can't with honesty say that it's been fair," she said, vowing that the family would not give up on their struggle.
Ralfe said he welcomed the decision, saying, "Obviously, I think it was the right decision to make, but a lot of people are hurting today -- Kumanjayi's family and his community -- and it didn't need to get to this point, so I'm going to leave this space for them."
During the trial, the jury heard from more than 40 witnesses to decide on whether Rolfe behaved reasonably during an attempted arrest for violating bail terms when he opted to fire his Glock pistol at Walker for the second and third time.
The prosecution said that Rolfe's first shot rendered Walker unconscious while he struggled with another officer, wielding a pair of scissors and that the second and third rounds – one or both of which were deadly – were excessive and violated his training as a police officer.
The jury, however, sided with Rolfe, which contended that he feared for his and his partner's life during the battle because Walker was brandishing an "edged weapon".
According to the defense, Rolfe claimed that the juvenile had attacked other officers with a hatchet just a few days before the incident and was not aware that the weapon carried by Walker was a pair of surgical scissors until after it was too late.
Both the prosecution and the defense referred to the officers' body camera footage several times, which showed Rolfe and his partner confronting Walker, as well as the resulting altercation and shooting.
In the footage, Rolfe can be heard justifying the shots to his partner, saying "It's all good. He was stabbing you, he was stabbing me."
The video also shows the frantic aftermath of the gunshot when the Yuendumu village realized the adolescent had been shot, as well as the officer's futile attempts to save Walker's life.
Rolfe was arrested four days after Walker died, implying that there was no serious inquiry into what occurred.
Tensions between the Northern Territory's Indigenous community and law enforcement had risen in the days leading up to the incident when police shot another 19-year-old First Nations youth six times near where the Rolfe trial was taking place.
Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves, a village elder, reacted angrily at the verdict in front of the waiting journalists.
"It's another sad day; I just say -- when we are going to get justice?! When?!" he said.
"Enough is enough! It's got to stop."