Sunday, December 17, 2006


Four articles below on a disgraceful attempt to prevent an apparent murder from going before a judge and jury

Outrage in the black community where the death occurred

Police officer Chris Hurley faces a potential million-dollar civil law suit despite being cleared of criminal charges over the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji. Furious family members and community leaders last night vowed to fight for justice and called for calm on the island. "We want to dig deeper," said Mulrunji's sister Claudelle Doomadgee. "There is something about this whole thing that stinks."

Emotions are high after the state's top prosecutor, Leanne Clare, ruled there was no evidence to prove Senior-Sergeant Christopher Hurley was criminally responsible for Mulrunji's death. The Director of Public Prosecutions overturned a two-year coronial inquest finding that the police officer struck the fatal blow that led to the death of Mulrunji in November 2004. Ms Clare [who obviously thinks she is judge and jury] instead ruled the father-of-one, 36, died from a "complicated fall" in a "terrible accident" inside the police station.

Extra police are today on standby in Townsville amid fears of a repeat of rioting that led to the Palm Island police station, barracks and jail house being burnt down a week after Mulrunji's death two years ago. Acting mayor Zacc Sam, who goes to the polls today in a mayoral by-election on the island, said he had appealed for calm among his fellow islanders. "We need to stand together on this," Mr Sam said. "We are awaiting legal advice on if we can take civil action against Hurley and what other options we have got." Lawyers for the family and the Palm Island council are investigating the legal options of pursuing civil action, including an independent review and suing Sen-Sgt Hurley for millions in damages for wrongful death....

But the shockwaves of Ms Clare's decision to clear Sen-Sgt Hurley continued to reverberate through the tight-knit community. Most expressed "sadness, anger and disbelief" over the ruling. "This is a bewildering decision," said Brisbane-based lawyer Andrew Boe, representing the Palm Island council. "This man's liver did not split almost in half by itself. Mulrunji's crime, if there was one, was to say a few words to which a police officer took offence." He said he was investigating the possibility of an independent review through the Attorney-General's office. The family expects a response from the lawyers as soon as Monday on the prospect of a civil damages claim.


'White justice' ruling puts heat on State leader

National tensions over indigenous justice erupted yesterday as the Howard Government and Aboriginal leaders demanded an independent review of the decision not to charge a police officer over a death in custody. A day after authorities announced no criminal or disciplinary charges would be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley over the death of a drunk Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island two years ago, federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough urged Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to arrange for a review or second opinion in the case.

Mr Brough, a Queenslander, pointed to the "stark differences" between state Deputy Coroner Christine Clements's findings that Sergeant Hurley caused Doomadgee's death, and Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision on Thursday not to lay any charges over the incident. "This strikes me as a reasonable case for a second opinion, and the matter may not be resolved in the minds of concerned people unless that occurs," Mr Brough said.

Senior indigenous Labor figures Warren Mundine and Linda Burney immediately rounded on the state Government for letting the decision stand. But Mr Beattie refused to intervene yesterday, instead suggesting Ms Clare use her powers to initiate an independent review, as she had done in a similarly contentious case in the past. "That's her decision. We will not have any political interference either from my Government or from Mal Brough," he said. Ms Clare refused to comment last night. And her office would not detail the extra evidence she considered, in addition to that raised at the inquest into Doomadgee's death, in deciding not to prosecute.

The coronial inquest was told that Doomadgee, who was drunk and had been arrested for swearing, struck Sergeant Hurley in the face at the Palm Island watchhouse and a "scuffle" ensued. Sergeant Hurley said he landed on the concrete floor of the watchhouse beside Doomadgee. However, the prisoner suffered four broken ribs and his liver was torn in two. In findings delivered in September, Ms Clements said "these actions of Senior Sergeant Hurley caused the fatal injuries" and the officer's failure to check on Doomadgee in his cell was "callous and deficient".

An initial autopsy report on Doomadgee's injuries sparked riots on the island in December 2004. Alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton yesterday called on Mr Beattie to go to Palm Island, explain what had occurred and "hear our cries". "This will traumatise a whole generation of indigenous people," he said. Doomadgee's former partner, Tracey Twaddle, and his grieving sisters plan to launch a civil action against Sergeant Hurley.

Mr Beattie's stance was supported by federal Opposition indigenous affairs spokeswoman Jenny Macklin, but Labor Party president Mr Mundine said the law had "turned its back on Aboriginal people". "The Beattie Government need to bloody do something - they can't just can't sit there and do nothing while this is going on," Mr Mundine said. "They need to stop bullshitting and sitting on their hands. "There's been a number of incidents in the last few years in Queensland and what's ever been done about them?"

Ms Burney, ALP vice-president and a NSW state Labor MP, said the Queensland Government must hold an independent review of the DPP's decision. "On the basis of community concern, there is probably justification for another look at it," she said. But Ms Macklin said "the important thing is for us all to recognise that the DPP is independent of politics"[Rubbish!].

Prominent Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson accused Ms Clare of "driving indigenous people to depths of despair" and called for her NSW or Victorian counterparts to undertake a review. "Ms Clare's competence has been under question since day one," Mr Pearson said. "She has been appointed DPP in an orgy of political correctness by the Queensland Labor Government. "Nobody in Queensland can have confidence in her judgment, and the Government should forthwith, for the confidence of the indigenous people in this state's legal system, seek a second opinion from a Director of Public Prosecutions in another jurisdiction."

A spokesman for Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine said last night the Government was powerless. "The DPP is independent and free of political interference and it is up to the DPP to seek any review," he said. But indigenous lawyers plan to meet Mr Shine next week to discuss their options. The south Queensland principal legal officer of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Legal Service, Greg Shadbolt, said while a referral to an interstate DPP would be sought, other options might include filing a private criminal complaint to a magistrate to determine if there is a prima facie case against Sergeant Hurley. "Given the findings of the coroner, one would have thought there is sufficient evidence to put before a jury for a jury to decide," he said.

Palm Island Acting Mayor Zac Sam said the council was also investigating whether a civil case could be brought against Sergeant Hurley. Sydney lawyer Stewart Levitt, who is representing several alleged Palm Island rioters, said he intended to file a complaint against the Queensland Government to the UN. Mr Levitt said the DPP's decision not to charge Sergeant Hurley provided further "evidence that a black life if not worth the same as white life in Queensland".

But Police Minister Judy Spence said she supported Ms Clare's decision and could understand why it was difficult for people to see how two arms of the judicial system could come to two different conclusions. "It's really a different test of evidence in each jurisdiction. I just remind people that it is common for judges to disagree." Mr Brough said it was possible that both Ms Clare and Ms Clements were correct in law. National Indigenous Council member Wesley Aird said the Beattie Government, by not intervening, was sending a message that police officers were more important than vulnerable Aboriginal people. "This community is just getting kicked while they are grieving. This wouldn't happen to a non-indigenous community," he said. Former Fraser government Aboriginal affairs minister Fred Chaney, co-chair of Reconciliation Australia, called on Mr Beattie to "restore confidence in the administration of justice". Doomadgee's sister, Valmai Aplin, said she did not know whether she could be strong enough to carry on without achieving justice for her brother. "In my heart I feel that my brother's soul will never rest until the person who did that to him is behind bars," she said.


Police reaction

Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson conceded yesterday the decision not to put Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on trial over the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee would inflame tensions between the police and indigenous community. Mr Atkinson made the comments after announcing that Sergeant Hurley was expected back on duty within two weeks - although not at an indigenous community - and as disciplinary action was being considered against police involved in the arrest of Doomadgee and the investigation into his death in November 2004.

In her findings delivered in September, Deputy Coroner Christine Clements found Sergeant Hurley "caused the fatal injuries" of Doomadgee. She was also scathing of police action on Palm Island before and after the death in custody. During the inquest, it was revealed the detectives who investigated Doomadgee's death - one of whom was a friend of Sergeant Hurley - shared a meal with the officer at his home on the night of the death and later failed to mention the allegation of assault in their report to the pathologist conducting the first autopsy. "It is reprehensible that the initial police investigations into the death were so obviously lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence," Ms Clements said.

The role of the Queensland Police Union also remains in question, with president Gary Wilkinson facing a contempt charge over his criticism of Ms Clements's findings and his deputy, Denis Fitzpatrick, yesterday criticising federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and Queensland Speaker of Parliament Mike Reynolds for questioning state Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare's decision not to go to trial. The criticism comes on top of outrage over heavy-handed police tactics - including holding children at gunpoint in nighttime raids - while searching for rioters who had firebombed the courthouse, police station and police living quarters after the first autopsy results for Doomadgee were released on November 26, 2004.

It also emerged that police asked the army in Townsville to send soldiers in helicopters in the aftermath of the burning of their police buildings. The request was refused. Police were later found by Queensland's courts to have conducted illegal interviews, including extracting confessions from unrepresented teenagers, during the riot investigation. In one case, a 16-year-old, deemed to have an intellectual maturity of 11, was dragged from bed at 6.30am and interviewed without proper representation.

Mr Atkinson said the events had damaged relations with the state's indigenous population. "Clearly this whole matter has not been helpful ... and has put us back," he said. "There's always room to improve, but I think across the board that police are not racist and they are sympathetic to Aboriginal people." On Thursday, Mr Atkinson rescinded the self-imposed suspension order against Sergeant Hurley. The Commissioner said Sergeant Hurley was unlikely to return to duty in an indigenous community such as Palm Island, not because of the death, but because there were few stations serving Aboriginal areas where a senior sergeant was required.


Equal rigour would have avoided disgrace

If the Queensland Police Service had applied just a percentage of the rigour and enthusiasm to investigating the horrific death of Mulrunji Doomadgee that they did to arresting people who had burnt their buildings on Palm Island, the disgraceful injustice that has been perpetrated on Aboriginal people could have been avoided.

Incredible as it may seem, they requested the army in Townsville send Black Hawk helicopters and soldiers when the buildings were torched and their 18 armed police ran to the hospital for protection. Then more than 80 police arrived with riot shields, taser guns, automatic shotguns and Glock pistols - and arrested more than 20 people suspected of property damage.

Contrast that with the investigation of Doomadgee's death. Mates of the arresting officer, Chris Hurley, were appointed to handle it. He picked them up at the airport, took them to his home, cooked a meal for them and shared a beer or two. The next day the "investigation" began. But contrary to standing rules, they did not declare it a "homicide situation". In fact, the original police statement to the pathologist conducting the autopsy on the body of Doomadgee did not mention allegations of an assault.

Deputy Coroner Christine Clements, after hearing months of evidence and cross examination, commented that some of the investigating officers were "wilfully blind" and that Hurley's treatment of Doomadgee was "callous and deficient". She found Hurley had lied and that his actions were responsible for Doomadgee's death. Yet the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Crime and Misconduct Commission could not find enough evidence on which to charge Hurley with anything - not even a disciplinary issue.

Premier Peter Beattie said his Government was working to improve the lot of indigenous people in Queensland, and particularly on Palm Island. That is bunkum. After his election win this year - due more to the Opposition's ineptitude than the Government's achievements - he did away with the indigenous affairs portfolio. Beattie's protestations that he wants to help indigenous people have been too hollow for too long and this latest disgraceful incident dashes the credibility of his Government.


Queensland: A useless "Green" bridge

It's in the middle of the suburbs, it won't take cars and there is little parking at either end of it so whom do they think will use it?

The Eleanor Schonell Bridge will be officially named and opened tomorrow but it already has an interesting history. The 520m cable-stayed bridge deck, which links Brisbane's Dutton Park and St Lucia, is Australia's first dedicated pedestrian, cycle and bus bridge. It will open two months ahead of schedule and $1 million under the original $55 million budget, and was built to ease the stress on the CBD by providing an alternative route to the University of Queensland's St Lucia campus. UQ is 7km from the city and 70,000 vehicles enter the area every day, much of it through the CBD. It is hoped [No harm in hoping -- except to the taxpayer's pocket] many UQ travellers will instead use the bridge.

In July 2004, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman announced 69 per cent of Brisbane residents wanted the bridge and four months later, developer John Holland was awarded the contract. Accompanying the opening will be three new bus services, which will be theoretically linked to 120 existing services. The bridge, known as the Green Bridge, has been designed to withstand earthquake, flood, pedestrian-overload and, in the future, light rail.

Its new name honours Dr Eleanor Schonell, a noted teacher, academic and author. The main road from the CBD leading to the campus is named Sir Fred Schonell Drive, after her husband. During the construction, workers also made some significant archaeological finds. About 600 artefacts dating back to the 1870s were uncovered from the area. These included bottles, ink wells, a World War II US Army issue toothbrush, relics from Brisbane cafe society, and platform shoes and paisley shirts. Then two prominent Brisbane poets were provided with historical research and archeological reports from the site excavation to provide inspiration for the poetry that is now embedded on the steel handrails and footpaths.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a good summary of relevant facts regarding the Palm Island matter here in the September 7 post:

I think the facts are finally in which explain the DPP position and why it varied from the Coroner's findings. In particular I refer you to the finding of the Coroner's finding that the policeman punched Mulrunji to death and the Supreme Court overturning that because the medical evidence before the Coroner refuted the possibility that that could be the cause of death even though that fact was overlooked in the Coroner's report.

As the Coroner found the policeman to have caused the fatal injury by punching and as that was ruled out by the medical evidence together with kicking the DPP decision makes more sense.

You consider it disgraceful if the DPP finds that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute and no charges are laid. However surely that happens every day of the week. Singling out a particular person to be dealt with differently to everyone else in the justice system because mass media didn't like them and chose to portray them as a murderer is not just.