Sam Watson: ‘Jail cops who kill’

Issue 
Sam Watson.

After seven years, the police officers responsible for the killing of Palm Island Aboriginal man Mulrunji Domadgee — and the cover-up that followed — may face new charges as a result of a Crimes and Misconduct Commission (CMC) report.

In November 2004, Mulrunji was found dead in a Palm Island police cell within an hour of his arrest by senior sergeant Chris Hurley. Mulrunji’s liver had been nearly cleaved in two by an extreme force and there were signs of bruising to his face.

Hurley was found not guilty of manslaughter by an all-white jury in Townsville in 2007. In the trial, he admitted that the injuries “must have” been a result of a “complicated fall”, in which he, the much larger police officer, fell heavily on Mulrunji.

The investigation into the killing was dogged by police cover-up. The initial investigation was carried out by Hurley’s police friends, who talked to him over drinks and dinner.

Hurley’s past history of violence against Aboriginal people was ruled inadmissible in his trial. Roy Bramwell, a witness who said he saw Hurley strike Mulrunji in the face, was allegedly intimidated into remaining silent about this during the trial.

The Queensland CMC investigated the police handling of Mulrunji’s death, and handed its findings to Queensland parliament on June 18.

The CMC found a culture of covering up mistakes in the police service to protect reputations. It criticised the police investigations into Mulrunji’s death. The CMC gave police commissioner Robert Atkinson 14 days to report back on what action would be taken against the six police officers involved in the investigations.

On June 18, ABC Online reported that Atkinson said it was “possible” some of the officers “might face criminal charges”. It also said the CMC was now investigating Hurley for collusion and his claim for compensation for damages suffered when his residence was burned down in demonstrations following Mulrunji’s death.

Sam Watson is a Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance and a Murri community leader. He is also a leader of the movement for justice for Mulrunji.

On hearing that the CMC was investigating Hurley, he said: "The CMC has the power under existing legislation to initiate those charges themselves. If they had any integrity and courage, any guts, they would have charged those police and brought them straight before the court."

Below, Watson responds to the CMC’s June 18 findings.

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The Queensland Police Service (QPS) hierarchy, beginning with Atkinson, must be sacked.

It is clear from the CMC’s review that nothing has changed in police culture since the days of [former corrupt Queensland premier] Bjelke-Peterson and [former corrupt politician] Russ Hinze.

Aboriginal people in Queensland cannot trust any state institution to get to the bottom of the stinking swamp of racism and complicity that is the Queensland police system. Nearly six years after a black man died of shocking internal injuries, supposedly due to a heavily built police officer “falling” on him, not one Queensland cop has been found guilty of anything.

Even the CMC review — which comes after three coronial inquiries, the original police investigation and the internal police review of that investigation — can’t bring itself to identify possible criminal charges against those involved in the chain of cover-up.

The CMC has given Atkinson 14 days to report back on what action he will take against six officers that investigated Mulrunji’s death, but it claims that there is insufficient evidence to support criminal charges.

If Atkinson’s reply is unsatisfactory, the CMC will “apply to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal to commence disciplinary proceedings”.

This in an open invitation for Atkinson to turn the six police responsible for the initial inquiry and the subsequent review into sacrificial lambs for the QPS hierarchy. But those who oversaw and defended the behaviour of the QPS, from Atkinson down, will get off scot-free.

What’s more, Premier Anna Bligh recently reappointed Atkinson to the job of commissioner and police minister Neil Roberts has said he has full confidence in Atkinson.

The CMC report brings a day of reckoning for the whole corrupt shambles that is policing in Queensland. It would never have happened without the ongoing movement for justice for Mulrunji and his family.

That movement will continue until the blue wall of silence that is the QPS is smashed forever.