Mulrunji Doomadgee killing: More officers exonerated

 No action against officers over Palm Island death ABC News Report
Six Queensland police officers involved in a bungled investigation into the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island off north Queensland will not face any further action.

Kathy Marks, Sydney The Independant 18th March 2011

Two decades ago, Queensland – then governed by an ultra-right-wing premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, with the help of a corrupt and brutal police force – was known as Australia's "Deep North". Now some are wondering if much has changed, following a decision not to take disciplinary action against officers involved in the case of an Aboriginal man who died in police custody.

Arrested for drunkenness and swearing, 36-year-old Mulrunji Doomadgee bled to death on the floor of a police cell on Palm Island, a former Aboriginal penal colony off the Queensland coast, in 2004. He had four broken ribs and a liver "virtually cleaved in two", the kind of injuries usually seen only after a high-speed car crash.

An inquest found that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused the injuries by punching Mr Doomadgee in the stomach during a struggle. In 2007, in a bitter blow to the dead man's family, Sgt Hurley was acquitted of manslaughter.

This week the family's anguish was compounded when Queensland Police announced that no action will be taken against six other officers. The six were not involved in Mr Doomadgee's death, but investigated Sgt Hurley's conduct. They included two friends of his, whom he picked up from the airport when they flew into Palm Island to begin their inquiry, before cooking them a meal at his home and sharing a few beers.

Queensland's anti-corruption watchdog, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) – set up after a Royal commission in 1989 found corruption in the police force and state government – denounced the investigation and a subsequent internal review as a cover-up.

The case was then handed to the Deputy Commissioner, Kathy Rynders, who concluded the officers should face only "managerial guidance". The decision outraged not only the CMC, whose chairman, Martin Moynihan, called it "incomprehensible", but also Mr Doomadgee's family, still waiting for justice six years on. To many, the legal and political saga symbolises the inequities and racism still faced by indigenous Australians. The mayor of Palm Island, Alf Lacey, said the failure to discipline officers had set back relations between police and Aboriginal people by a decade.

The death of Mr Doomadegee, who had never been in trouble with the law, sparked riots on Palm Island. Those involved were swiftly jailed. Mr Lacey observed last year: "If those [investigating] police did wrong, they should be put in jail, just like the rioters. Black or white, what do you say when the system supposed to protect you fails you?"

Thirty-four police officers received bravery awards following the riots. On Palm Island, meanwhile, the community is still grieving. Mr Doomadgee's only son, Eric, hanged himself in 2006.

Sgt Hurley is now an acting inspector on Queensland's Gold Coast. One of the officers involved in the investigation – which the coroner, Brian Hine, found riddled with lies – has also been promoted. Another has retired on medical grounds; a third is on unpaid leave. The other three are still in the Queensland force. The state Premier, Anna Bligh, said this week that the police disciplinary process was being reviewed.

Comments

The CMC and Queensland

By Ray Jackson, President, Indigenous Social Justice Association

the cmc and qld. police actions have again brought about an unjust outcome for the doomadgee family, the palm island community and justice supporters around australia and the world. the outcome, i would argue, is without surprise as the state power brokers pulled every legal stunt possible to slow the cmc from its course, even to the point of the six officers involved in the study taking their own commissioner to court stating he could not discipline them as he was biased. more whizz and somersaults than ringling's circus.

Sgt Hurley is now an acting inspector on Queensland's Gold Coast. One of the officers involved in the investigation - which the coroner, Brian Hine, found riddled with lies - has also been promoted. Another has retired on medical grounds; a third is on unpaid leave. The other three are still in the Queensland force. i wonder where in this list lies then-d/s darren robinson sits?

it beggars belief and commonsense that now retired deputy commissioner kathy rynder could find nothing of worth among the multiple charges against the six that warrented nothing more than 'managerial advice', thus tying the hands of the cmc to prosecute the six officers themselves.

i would find it passing strange if the power brokers involved - the bligh govt., the qld police and their union and even the cmc - were unaware of the 'loophole' that would allow the six officers to be treated very generously for their crimes, and they are crimes. for starters they all breached their own bible, the commissioners instructions besides other rules and laws.

i would not be surprised if another sweetheart deal has been agreed to whereby these six are allowed to move on and then the govt. changes the laws of the cmc to close the loophole. perhaps the govt, under pressure from the police and the union, will do nothing. there are many perhaps, as there always is in police matters.

there is enough evidence to charge robinson, if not the other five, with what i would consider would be viewed by any dpp worth his wage as crimes of some import. and what are these crimes? not alleged crimes but crimes already discussed in the three coronial inquests and/or common knowledge and consequenly reported in the media.

evidence tampering by destrying the original witness statement and ordering another be written to better support his 'good mate', chris hurley.

witness intimidation not only with the above matter but by addressing his wishes and instructions to others from palm island.

one witness was picked up by robinson and taken for a drive, or what is known as a walk in the park. that witness was found hung the next morning. we will never know what passed between the two on that night unless of course robinson suddenly gets a conscience and tells us. maybe he told hurley to prove what a good mate he was. as far as i know, robinson was the last person to see the witness alive. is not just that one point enough to investigate robinson further? whatever his current status with the qld. police force. or is there a need for another loophole?

there is also the tragic death of mulrunji's son. he too was found hung, has any enquiries been made into his death? if not, why not?

did robinson also speak to him prior to his death? i understand that he was not a potential witness but did he know something that concerned others? again we will never know.

i must admit ignorance on the terms of reference that the cmc used to investigate robinson and the others but qld police replied to three of them. the first was the investigation anomolies, the next was having dinner with hurley and discussing it in detail whilst the third referred to the complete lack of support to the many witnesses involved. Queensland Police report in response to the CMC review

that the police have successfully, so far, saved their officers, including hurley, from the justice that should befall them is undeniable. under different circumstances one could almost admire their machiavellan machinations in their seeking redemption for their erring fellow officers. but we must remember that they have been doing this for some 200 years. they, of course, do not act in isolation. they have the active support og governments, past and present. they also have access to the top legal minds and analysis. whilst it now is arguable that it is decreasing they also have the majority of media support.

we can scream and fight for justice but without practical support, especially the media, we are literally spitting in the face of the wind. justice is not only blind but she is also deaf except where she can be wooed by generally large amounts of money and resources. justice is a tart and can be purchased by those with power and political power.

that is what we must obtain. during this case people power has allowed for change to be made in a justice-centric way. we fought the police cover-up, we forced the dpp to back down, we forced hurley into court, we proved time and time again that together we could force change, we won some battles but lost the war when it became the property of the power-brokers, including the cmc. we allowed them to lock us out. their result became inevitable.

that is why we must fight and win the right to elect citezens police boards, that would include the right to monitor dic investigations and other serious police problems such as endemic corruption. the americans have them as do some european countries.

we will never get the justice we deserve or fight for until we have a public voice in their determinations to exonerate, exonerate, exonerate at all costs.

one vision that has been raised is for a professional team of six experts to become a national dic taskforce that would investigate all dic nationally at whatever custodial area was involved. this may be a possibility but it would need to have an ironclad exclusion of police officers, retired or working. then they would need to have their decisions monitored by the citizensreview board. let's work for it.

fkj

Ray Jackson
President, Indigenous Social Justice Association

Exceptions to the rule of law on Palm Island

Jeff Waters ABC Ingigenous March 16th, 2011

The Queensland Police Service has formed its wagon train into a circle.

Rifles are fixed.

The defences are impenetrable.

At the circle's centre stand a handful of officers, all of whom were involved with the botched investigation into the death in custody of the man now known as Mulrunji, on Palm Island in 2004.

He died in mysterious circumstances, with massive internal injuries caused by "compressive force" about an hour after being arrested for allegedly swearing.

It's taken six years for the organisation (which some Indigenous Australians might prefer to call a "firm") to come to the conclusion that these men have no reason to be disciplined, thus, under the law, preventing them from being prosecuted by the state's Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC).

The decision was finally made by Deputy Commissioner Kathy Rynders who gave bravery medals to two of the six officers she was investigating - for their actions during the ensuing riot.

It appears that the rule of law does not apply to the police in this matter.

For instance, if police fail to notify the Homicide Investigation Group after a death in custody, as is stipulated by the Coroner's Court, they have done no wrong.

If a senior officer appoints friends of the policeman involved in the death to conduct an investigation into their own mate, nothing is amiss.

If the policeman (Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley) has conversations with key witnesses before they are interviewed, views the footage taken from the watch house cell, and takes part in secret and private conversations with the mates who are investigating him, then that's fine.

Indeed, if they later boast about the fact they spoke to witnesses before interviews so as to get clearer, more consistent, stories, then why on Earth should we be concerned?

Who needs to secure a crime scene? Who needs to bother with forensic examinations?

When all the coaching and interviewing and quiet chat is over, what's the problem with the policeman retiring with his mates - and his boss - to a nice meal and a few beers to chew the fat, as it were?

And then, when the dead body is packed away and sent off to the pathologist for examination, what does it matter if the police officers fail to include in the enclosed report that there were claims the dead man had been punched?

Kathy Rynders, in rejecting what the QPS likes to call the "advice" of the CMC (presumably so as to demean its worth), that the six officers should be disciplined, has pulled a fast one.

By not taking disciplinary action against the officers, Deputy Commissioner Rynders has ensured, under Queensland's often peculiar laws, that it is now impossible for the CMC to bring them before the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The CMC chairman, Martin Moynihan, is quoted as saying he's "astounded" that his recommendations for discipline had been ignored.

The Queensland Police Union wasn't astounded.

Back in November last year, it correctly predicted the Palm Island death in custody matter was "all over" and that no disciplinary action would ensue - an astounding prediction in itself.

With the Indigenous community, and much of Queensland's "civil society" in uproar over this decision, many are turning to Premier Anna Bligh for leadership.

And the Premier has responded with soothing, and potentially positive words.

She is quoted as saying this outcome would put new focus on the police disciplinary process, which is something Mr Moynihan says needs to be re-drawn.

"I want a better police disciplinary process; not one that takes six or nine years but one that responds to issues quickly and fairly and treats police officers fairly and is accountable to the public," the Premier is quoted in the media as saying.

"I think the family concerned, the public and the whole police service would have wanted this matter dealt with (more quickly)... that's why we are now reviewing the whole police disciplinary process."

But Anna Bligh, with all of her post-disaster popularity, sits in the same office as so many other premiers who failed to make change.

(Her most immediate predecessor, Peter Beattie, did, arguably, make changes by actually weakening the CMC's powers.)

Perhaps it's finally time to pick up on an idea being spruiked by the Civil Liberties Council's Terry O'Gorman, who has suggested to me that what this country needs is a national police oversight body.

Maybe it is, indeed, time for the Federal Government to step in and impose a new watchdog on all of the state's police forces which, over the years, have failed to prove they can police themselves.

Until something like that happens, there can be no guarantee that the rule of law will apply equally to all Australians.

Jeff Waters is Senior Correspondent for the ABC's Asia Pacific News Centre, and author of "Gone for a Song, A death in Custody on Palm Island," published by ABC Books.

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