Dave Riley, Brisbane
With the coronial inquiry still pending into the November death-in-custody of Cameron Doomadgee, the Queensland government and its police force have been able to avoid taking responsibility for the death.
The inquest will follow two autopsies. The first autopsy determined that Doomadgee died from a ruptured liver and spleen, as well as two broken ribs. It did not make a judgement about how these injuries occurred. Doomadgee was arrested on November 19 for "public drunkenness", he was dead an hour later.
Two Aboriginal prisoners claim they saw Doomadgee being beaten, and the first autopsy noted that his injuries could have resulted from having something heavy placed on his chest. The police claim, however, that these injuries could have resulted from a fall while Doomadgee was scuffling with a police officer prior to being taken into custody.
When the coroner's report from the first autopsy was read to a community meeting, anger boiled over and 300 people marched on the police station, which was then set on fire. The action was used as justification for a brutal police crackdown on the community.
The second autopsy was held at the family's demand, and raises doubts about the police account of events. While it has not been released, it reportedly concludes that his fatal injuries were almost certainly sustained during his time in police custody. According to the Courier Mail on January 30, it allegedly says that there was a degree of force applied to Doomadgee's body, but does conclude how that happened.
Meanwhile, the Doomadgee family is questioning why the Queensland Police and the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) have not told the public that there was a security video taken on the night Doomadgee died.
The family's spokesperson, Brad Foster, insists that a witness saw the watch-house's security camera turned off and later turned back on again after Doomadgee's arrest for public nuisance. "One of the witnesses that was in the office had seen that the TV and video were turned off at the time", Foster told ABC Radio. "As they put him into the cell and locked up the cell, they then walked back into the police station and then turned back on the video recorder and the TV."
As the president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, Terry O'Gorman, told ABC Radio on February 1: "Clearly any allegation that the video recording in the watch-house — which was standard equipment and which should operate 24 hours a day and which should never be turned off — such an allegation should be given prominence in the coronial hearing because it's a very serious allegation."
The Doomadgee family have also expressed concern that the coronial investigation will not force police to testify. The family has accused the CMC — now operating three investigations into events flowing from the November riot — of being too close to police. "The Doomadgee family believes the coronial inquiry will be a whitewash", Foster said on February 1.
From Green Left Weekly, February 9, 2005.
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