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poor buggar me aborigine « Previous | |Next »
December 21, 2006

Chloe Hooper has an op-ed in The Australian on the way the law works in relation to indigenous people at Palm Island in the deep north of the state of Queensland. As we know Mulrunji Doomadgee died in 2004 within 45 minutes of his arrest, with a liver almost cleaved in two, four broken ribs, a ruptured portal vein, a haemorrhaging pancreas and a black eye. Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare SC had stated that she had reviewed all the evidence regarding Mulrunji Doomadgee's 2004 death in a Palm Island police station, finding it the result of a "complicated fall".


'All' the evidence? If so, what does 'review' mean? What is the basis for judging the importance and significance of the evidence? How come we had "fall" not "assault"? Clare explicitly says that the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee was an accident, which is quite different from saying that that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction, in could be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the fatal blow was struck by Sergeant Hurley.

An editorial in The Australian puts the political context this way:

The extent of dysfunction [in Palm Island] was underlined by yesterday's visit by Queensland Premier Peter Beattie to explain how a local man in custody could die in a scuffle with a policeman, and nothing happen as a result. Two plane-loads of police were flown into Palm Island to safeguard Mr Beattie, while another police boat remained offshore.....Doomadgee was arrested for questioning police authority. He had done nothing wrong and had never been in trouble with the law. His death has highlighted uncomfortable facts about policing in Queensland and the treatment of the state's Aboriginal citizens. The facts of Palm Island and the Doomadgee case are scandalous and Mr Beattie should have more to offer than a brave face backed up by heavy police protection.

Questions arise because something is amiss in Clare's judgement. She came to a conclusion as to the cause of death which is not a prosecutory function, and she did not indicate what evidence proves that the death was an accident. As Chloe Hooper points out:
Clare says she has based her decision not to charge Hurley on "the evidence, not emotion". She can't mean the evidence given by the three forensic pathologists who appeared at the inquest. These doctors, including one commissioned by Hurley's lawyers, were in little doubt Doomadgee's injuries were caused by a good deal more than a fall on to a flat surface...This forensic evidence would all be admissible and compelling were Hurley to be charged.

If we turn to the report of the Queensland Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements we find this account of the medical evidence:
The consensus of expert medical opinion was that a simple fall through the doorway, even in an uncontrolled and accelerated fashion, was unlikely to have caused the particular injuries...[One of the pathologists claimed] This kind of injury is usually associated with an application of very severe force such as in a high-speed motor vehicle trauma.

In a 40-page report, Clements finds Hurley became angry and assaulted Doomadgee. She also claims the subsequent investigation, conducted by Hurley's friends in the police force, was "wilfully blind" and "reprehensible".

So why did Clare say "fall" not "assault"? Can we infer that the police are above the law, as Hooper suggests? It sure looks like there is one law for th epolice and one for indigenous people at this point in time. An independent review of Clare's decision is the minimum that is required. Disciplinary action against Sergeant Hurley is also necessary, as he both failed in his duty to a prisoner to take reasonable care for his or her safety and he compromised the investigation.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:13 AM | | Comments (24)


I can not see a resolution to this.
If something is to come good of this whole thing I would hope that it unifies the people of Palm Island.

yes it is difficult, especially when the event is overlaid with all the associations, mentalities and habits of the historical relationship between Queensland's Aboriginal community and the police.That relationship has long been marked by fear and suspicion associated with the harsh racial policies of frontier Queensland.

Today we live with the consequences of that history: a chronic dysfunctional and violent indigenous "community". You can see why Beattie just wishes it would go away. That is wishing history away.

There is a problem of the law though. As Hooper points out we have:

Alissa Norman, mother of four, who was sentenced to 18 months' jail for throwing a rock during the riots on Palm Island after an initial report on Doomadgee's death found no evidence of police responsibility.

Norman is jailed for throwing a rock. Hurley is not charged for causing a death. The contrasts between the two cases are too great to be lightly brushed aside. The law's legitimacy has now become the issue. The law must fix itself up so that it is a just law.

Where's the Queensland legal profession in all of this? Have they run for cover? Aren't they ashamed of the way the law has spoken and worked?

I can see your point in relation to the 18 months for rock throwing.....that and other historical events make things look very bad but;

The legal system must make a judgement on one thing. Evidence.

All the other events relating to aboriginal people and police are a seperate issue and should not come into it.

the argument is based on evidence that Sergeant Hurley assaulted Mulrunji Doomadgee. The coroner's interpretation of the medical evidence was that

The consensus of expert medical opinion was that a simple fall through the doorway, even in an uncontrolled and accelerated fashion, was unlikely to have caused the particular injuries...[One of the pathologists claimed] This kind of injury is usually associated with an application of very severe force such as in a high-speed motor vehicle trauma.

It is Clare, the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, goes against the medical evidence when she says that it was an accident.

As I said the law has a real problem here. It's been skewered by its own criteria. The more this is evaded the worse it looks to be a cover-up of an injustice.

I think that all the evidence should be re-presented to a different coroner. In my opinion she gave her findings in an over opinionated theatrical manner. Hence the legal opinion now.

But I concede that if a Black man had of been involved in a white policemans death in any would of been xmas in jail for him.

Australia still is a very racist country.

well we have a major point of difference: you reckon the problem is with the coroner in that she was wrong in the way she interpreted the medical evidence. I reckon she has done her job well.

I reckon the problem lies with the DDP. She should only have said the evidence was not good enough to proceed with a prosecuting Hurley; not say that the injuries were caused by a fall. You reckon the DDP was right to say Doomadgee's was an accident.

We have a 40 page Coroner Report online; we have a media release from the DDP online The latter's interview was equally cryptic.

I suppose that the coroner looks at the words/facts whereas the judge sees the human side.

I think there is some belief that the injuries were caused before the incident. This would seem unbelievable in a middle class society but in an aboriginal community as any person who has worked in aboriginal health will tell you it is quite common for aboriginal men who drink a lot to sustain massive injuries from beatings and being struck by cars and go off to the pub before the hospital.

This aspect is crucial to this case.

the judge looks at the law. It has little to do with the human side. Could she prosecute? What did the law say?

As to your theory about the injuries Doomadgee were caused before the incident that is it not what the medical evidence says. The consensus was pretty clear.

Clear as Mud.

Whilst Beattie's 'hanging tough' looks more untenable by the day, the Queensland DDP has changed her position, in that she is now explictly saying that the evidence does not support a prosecution of Sergeant Hurley:

The firm assessment of my office was that the evidence fell considerably short of that which would be required to put anyone on trial. Therefore, no one in my office could prosecute this case regardless of any position adopted by an external review. Prosecuting is not about being popular. It is about taking on the admissible evidence without fear or favour and doing what is considered in good faith to be the right thing.

Clare stated that when she said that she would not submit her decision to external review because to do so would be to call her independence into question.

Clare ought to have said that in the beginning, rather than talking about "a terrible accident" caused by a "complicated fall", and so found that Hurley had no charge to answer. That implies she had "new evidence", which she had considered in coming to her decision, to reject a coroner's finding that Sergeant Hurley was responsible for Mulrunji Doomadgee's death.

So what was that evidence? The coroner can make one finding and the DDP can make another, but Clare doesn't have to explain why.

Why isn't Hurley being charged for compromising the investigation: the investigators dined at Hurley's house while the investigation was being conducted, and Hurley himself had met the investigating officers at the airport and driven them to the scene of Mulrunji's arrest?

That is not how the law says investigations should normally be conducted in terms of procedural justice. Yet the Queensland police continue to maintain that this is okay. Surely there needs to be major changes to the way the police force investigates indigenous deaths in custody.

I see that a Brisbane lawyer Andrew Boe ---who represented the Palm Island community --- is preparing to challenge the DPP's finding. Presumably there are legal grounds that justify a challenge. It will be interesting to see what they are.

I read an interesting article in the Gold Coast bulletin today under the "Focus" heading.

To my knowledge Andrew Boe is or was married to a Semi aboriginal Lawyer/judge. There was some controversy a few years back about there children receiving free books at a private school because they were part aboriginal.

I suspect he likes to be on tele too.

Many feel the coroner stepped outside her parameters in naming Hurley and this has prejudiced him.

you evade the issue that the law (police and judiciary) has a problem with the way it has dealt with this issue up to now. You seem to be arguing that its really the coroner's fault. She overstepped her mark. If she hadn't, then none of this would have happened.

That argument gives the police a clean bill of health when their investigation was shockingly compromised. They are deemed to be not responsible for their actions, and Bob Atkinson, The Police Commissioner, has no responsibility for the conduct of his police force.

Youe argument assumes the impartiality of the police.That is a highly questionable assumption in the circumstances.

I dont think that I am evading anything. My point is that this event should be judged as a singular event and not involve every bad thing that has happened to the aboriginal race since white man turned up.
Of course there are bad eggs in the police force and bad attitudes by officers in rural communities in regards to aboriginies.
What needs to be solved is whether this officers actions resulted in the death.
I am all for a trial by jury. But not a trial by media. Unlike some who seem to have already built the Gallows.

But I'm not arguing that this event should be judged in terms of involving every bad thing that has happened to the aboriginal race since white man turned up.

I'm arguing that with respect to this singular event the law has been found wanting in terms of procedural justice. That means the law has a problem given its ethos of justice for all Australians. The law appears to be unjust judged by its own critieria.

I don't know who you are arguing against. It sure ain't me.

This story will be going on for years. No resolution will be made here.

one reason for that is history that produces an unwillingness and incapacity of the Beattie Government to address the indigenous problem.

This history affects all public institutions. In the short term the law (justice system and police) needs to address its own inadequacies so that all Australians are treated the same, no matter the colour of their skin.

Where has the Police Minister been in all of this? Deafening silence is what I hear. Shouldn't the Police Minister be saying something about a compromised police investigation and the way the Police Commissioner has covered it up?

The beattie Government has done a marvelous job of Rogering all of us up here...Why should the indigenous people miss out.
Yes, yes we all know the investigation was compromised...its all well documented....Cover ups now! Your last statement looks like a promo for A Current Affair.....If you know something that has been covered up...Enlighten us all.

nothing that you don't know already.

If the investigation was compromised and it's all well documented, then the failure to address that through disciplinary action takes the form of a cover up. What is covered up is the flaw in procedural justice.There is a refusal by the police authorities to acknowledge that a compromised investigation equates to injustice.

Simple really. White man is protected and black man is sacrificed.It's only the police and their apologists in the media who don't get it.

If a black person gives the police a bit of lip, then they can expect very rough treatment in custody---standard operating procedure--- with the violence then covered up as a simple accident.

Only the coroner is prepared to speak out against the silence around the need for some fundamental reform.

I think that anybody who gives the police lip would be subject to an unhappy stay in the watch-house.
Stating that the "Police Commisioner" has covered something up is over the top a bit.
There have been some new developments today and it seems the wheels of justice may of turned another cog in relation to Clares actions.

Re your 'anybody who gives the police lip would be would be subject to an unhappy stay in the watch-house.'

Does 'unhappy stay' include their death? For that is what happened in this event.Isn't that justice-Queensland style for indigenous people.

re your comment 'Stating that the "Police Commisioner" has covered something up is over the top a bit.' The Australian's editorial is a good response:

At the very least, Doomadgee's death reflects bungling incompetence at every level. He was a young man of good character who was arrested for being disrespectful to Sergeant Hurley, who was attending to a domestic violence matter in which Doomadgee had no involvement. Within an hour of his arrest, Doomadgee was dead after being allegedly punched and then fallen on by Sergeant Hurley in the Palm Island police station. Doomadgee's death sparked violent riots on Palm Island, in which the police station was burnt to the ground. Several people are now in jail as a result. Relations between the Queensland Government and the Palm Island community have broken down, Doomadgee's son has taken his own life, his mother has died and the Beattie Government has sought to downgrade its exposure to Aboriginal affairs. Queensland no longer has a dedicated Aboriginal affairs portfolio. A report into the dysfunctional conditions on Palm Island was tabled in parliament almost a year ago. It identified key systemic failings, particularly in land tenure, housing and funding for the local council. However, the report's recommendations have received scant financial or bureaucratic attention.

Incompetence is what the police are covering up.As is the Beattie Government.

Obviously I think death in custody is not what I mean by an unhappy stay....An unhappy stay would be a good kick up the bum and no breakfast.
As for the Australian editorial. Well, I could run around the place cutting and pasting peoples scribblings but prefer to give my own opinion.
Palm Islands problems stem from Alcohol drugs and nothing to do. Until that is fixed there will always be problems there and unfortunately occasional deaths through violence.

when there is no effective opposition or house of review in a state the voice of opposition is the media. The Australian's editorial was introduced to show that this kind of injustice has national resonances.

It aims to counter that conservative deep north strand of thinking in Queensland. This says there is a lynch mob mentality at work here---against the DDP--- even though that it is one aboriginal life that has been lost. it also refues to acknowledge the checks and balances within the legal system (coroner & DDP), continually points the finger at the coroner as the cause of the problem, and defends the police actions no matter what.

yes well at the end of the day The Australian's agenda is to put bums on seats and sell chocolate bars.
We recently had an election in Qld and the beattie gov won convincingly. This was because the opposition was little more than a bunch of Monkeys in suits.