Report: Police covered up Indigenous killing

May 8, 2010
Brisbane black deaths in custody rally, January 2007. 'The leaked findings of this draft report are way overdue.' Photo: David J

Senior Queensland police officers have been accused of using improper methods to cover up for fellow police officers when investigating the death of 36-year-old Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004.

A coroner has described Doomadgee’s November 2004 arrest for intoxication as “not an appropriate exercise of police discretion”. Within an hour of the arrest by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, Doomadgee had died from blows to his body which almost split his liver in two.

Hurley denied any wrongdoing and was acquitted of manslaughter by an all-white jury in 2007. He was awarded $100,000 for property damaged during the three days of rioting that followed Doomadgee’s death. He continues to work as a police officer on the Gold Coast.

The accusations of cover up are made in a report by the Queensland Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC). The May 6 Courier Mail said the report, due to be made public in late May, will recommend disciplinary action against at least nine serving police officers.

“The leaked findings of this draft report are way overdue”, Indigenous community leader and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate Sam Watson told Green Left Weekly.

“The killing of Mulrunji occurred nearly six years ago. This long-promised CMC report is finally due to be released in a month. Meanwhile, on May 14, coroner [Brian] Hines is set to bring down his findings in the third coronial hearing into this tragic case.

“What I personally saw when I attended the coronial hearing in Townsville last month was that on the basis of the material presented in the case, the coroner would have sufficient evidence to recommend charging certain police with criminal conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Criminal charges should be laid.

“Unfortunately, it seems likely the Hines findings will be fairly tame, and the CMC will only recommend the lightest options for disciplining the police involved. If the media reports of the CMC findings are accurate, it shows a number of senior police officers were involved in a very serious cover-up of the death of Mulrunji.”

The current coronial hearing is a high-risk strategy for Hurley, who is trying to overturn an earlier coronial finding that he probably caused Domadgee’s death. His legal costs are being paid for by the Queensland Police Union.

“The whole Queensland judicial structure is compromised by the power of the Queensland Police Union”, Watson said. “I have no confidence that [Anna Bligh’s ALP] government will aggressively pursue any recommendations to bring criminal charges against police.

“We need to mount a political campaign to demand the immediate sacking of Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson. He presided over the whole sorry matter of the Murunji investigation during this time.

“We should call for an immediate picket of police headquarters when the findings are released. The Queensland Police Service is the bully boy of the state, intimidating government and the criminal justice system.

“The Queensland people need to be reminded of the Mulrunji case. The only way Aboriginal deaths in custody will stop is if police involved are charged and convicted.”

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