Palm Island tensions flare again on claims Submit comment By Peter
SENIOR police have flown to Palm Island to try to calm the north
Queensland Aboriginal community amid claims of police victimisation.
The rising tensions followed a tough new alcohol crackdown and after a
police ethical standards investigation cleared two officers who ordered
an Aboriginal man to publicly strip to his underwear for a search.
Palm Island leaders, elders, Aboriginal lawyers and civil libertarians
slammed the findings as "bodgy, utterly unacceptable and a clear breach
of police powers".
They warned of rising anger among residents who believed they were being
unfairly targeted and discriminated against by the tough new grog laws.
"People are angry. They feel like there is one law for whites and one
for blacks," deputy mayor Raymond Sibley said.
"And now with police pulling people up and strip searching them in
public, it is getting out of hand."
It comes ahead of a high-profile test case involving a Palm Islander,
expected to affect hundreds of cases statewide.
The case, to be heard on appeal in Townsville Supreme Court in July,
revolved around whether the grog laws were racially discriminatory.
Father-of-three Charlie Gibson, who was the subject of the strip search
last October, filed a complaint to the Crime and Misconduct Commission
after he was ordered to publicly disrobe, exposing his genitals in front
of women and children.
He said he had been publicly humiliated and shamed in front of his
Officers found no drugs or alcohol in his possession.
Ethical Standards Command handed down its findings on May 17, dismissing
the complaint as "unsubstantiated" and saying the officers acted
Assistant Commission Northern Region Paul Wilson and a Brisbane-based
Deputy Commissioner flew to the island off Townsville to discuss
concerns on Monday.
Palm Islanders rioted and burned down the police station in 2004 in the
aftermath of the Aboriginal death-in-custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee.
Australian Council of Civil Liberties president Terry O'Gorman yesterday
called for the CMC to immediately review the police investigation.
"Police must take reasonable care to protect the dignity of the person
being searched," he said.
"It is a flagrant and fundamental breach of police powers, which
prohibits that sort of police conduct."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service chief executive
Shane Duffy said he had received complaints of police conducting illegal
public strip-searches at Palm Island, Mount Isa and Mackay.
Senior Program Officer
2006 Rally 11am Saturday Nov 18
Rally Queens Park Corner of George and Elizabeth Sts, Opp casino
March through the city to Musgrave Park
For Info or endorsement Ph: Sam Watson 0401227443
National Day of Action:
Justice for Mulrinji Stop Black Deaths in Custody
Stop Police Brutality, Stop Police Brutality, Murder & Racism
WE ARE ALSO DEMANDING:
! The full implementation of the findings of the Royal
Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.
!Reopen all contested deaths in custody cases.
!Drop the charges against the Palm Islanders who rose up
in grief after the killing of their brother, Mulrinji.
Two years ago, Mulrinji, a fit 36-year-old Aboriginal man was taken into police custody -
an hour later he was dead with 4 broken ribs & his liver split in two. While police claimed
he “fell”, the Coroner’s report into the death found that Mulrinji should never have been
arrested, & that he was killed by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. Mulrinji is one of hundreds
of Aboriginal people who have died in custody, yet not ONE police officer has been jailed.
It’s time to stand up and demand justice. On Nov 18, the 2-year anniversary of Mulrinji’s
death, people across Australia will rally demanding an end to the epidemic of police
brutality and racism. Join us!
SEPT 2006 CORONER's REPORT IN!
The Coroner’s report was handed down today Wednesday the 27th September 2006.
The Queensland Deputy State Coroner, Ms Christine Clements found in favour of the Doomadgee family & Palm Island Community today. Ms Clements report stated that Mulrunji should never have been arrested, labeling the arrest as “not an appropriate exercise of police discretion”. Ms Clements found that Mulrunji was hit by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley after Mulrunji's arrest, and that Mr Doomadgee died from the injuries resulting from Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley’s “sustained attack” upon him.
Ms Clements found that while Chris Hurley was hitting Mulrungi, that Hurley had asked the victim "Do you want more, Mr Doomadgee? Do you want more?'' and dragged Mulrungi into the cell in which he died. Ms Clements said Hurley had been “callous & deficient” in not calling for medical help for Mulrungi.
Coroner Clements also heavily criticized the police investigation stating “…there was a suggestion of collusion between police" (The Australian news paper 28th Sept. 06), and in her report Ms Clements described the police investigation as "lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence". Ms Clements noted that Hurley had picked the investigating officers up from the Islands airport, shown them around the crime scene & had had dinner at with Hurley that evening at his home.
Ms Clements has made 40 recommendations in her report including “…that there should be more alternatives to arrests and that the police response should be changed to make arrests a last resort”. About the historical context of the whole issue of Aboriginal deaths in police custody Ms Clements commented “…It is reprehensible that the declared recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1993) should be have to be referred to so many years after the Royal Commission. The evidence is clear however that these recommendations are still apt and still ignored”.
However Ms Clements does not have the legal power to recommend that Senior Sgt Chris Hurley be charged with murder. Ms Clements declared “it is now up to the Department of Public Prosecutions to decide whether Senior Sgt Hurley should be charged in relation to the death”. The Attorney General Ms Linda Lavarch has given the inquest report to the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms Leanne Clare to judicate upon the matter.
(The Courier mail & ABC News; 26 -28th Sept 06).
Ms Clements stated in handing down the inquest findings that “I conclude that these actions of Senior Sergeant Hurley caused the fatal injuries”. (The Australian, 28th/09/06).
The Police Commissioner’s office stated that they will give a formal response to the coroner’s findings once they have reviewed the full report. However in a media conference held today the Queensland Police Union (QPU) general president Gary Wilkinson declared the inquest into Mulrungi's death a ‘witch-hunt’. Mr Wilkinson stated that Coroner Clements had ‘cherry picked’ her way through the evidence & that it reflected her anti police agenda. In defense of Chris Hurley, Mr Wilkinson stated he considered Hurley to have done nothing wrong & that he had “…been hung out to dry by her" (www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200609/s1749821.htm).
The Brisbane news paper 'The Courier Mail' reported Gary Wilkinson (Qld Police Union president) as saying in reference to Coroner Clements …”It’s either a deliberate act of bringing down these findings, that are completely wrong, or it is incompetence”. Mr Wilkinson also accussed the coroner of having an anti police agenda.
Queensland Bar Association president Martin Daudney stated he was “gravely concerned” by the QPU president Gary Wilkinson’s public statements & called them an “intemperate personal attack”. Mr Daudney went onto say that the extent of Mr Wilkinson’s personalized attack upon coroner Clements “...is attaching the integrity of the judiciary …that is an extraordinary thing for a police representative to do”. Other senior legal figures have warned that Wilkinson could face contempt charges. (www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,023494540-2,00.html; 5th /10 /06)
Terry O’Gorman (prominent Lawyer & Queensland and Australian Councils for Civil Liberties advocate) has called for Gary Wilkinson to be charged with contempt. This call has been ignored by the authorities.
Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson does not believe that any officer should be stood down from duty as a result of the inquest findings. On Thursday the 28th of September Bob Atkinson assigned Chris Hurley to non-operational desk duty. This action has angered the Aboriginal Communities & activists and academics & Lawyers have voiced their shock at the minor remedial action been taken to date. Commissioner Atkinson decided against suspending Sen-Sgt Hurley while the DPP looked into the matter, instead restricting him to desk duties. He was backed by Premier Peter Beattie and Police Minister Judy Spence. (The Sunday Mail, 8th October 2006).
On September 30th, Michael Reynolds has again called on the Police Commissioner to give full consideration to reviewing his decision not to stand down Snr Sgt Hurley from the police service and instead give him office duties. He says he stood down child safety officers in his previous portfolio for much less than the allegations against the officer. (ABC ON-LINE, Saturday September 30, 2006. 12:40pm, AEST)
The following week Chris Hurley temporarily stood aside, due to the growing public debate. He did so voluntarily but has done so on full pay.
The official response by Premier Peter Beattie to the inquests recommendations for change to policing practise has been to establish a 'Task force', as out lined in an ABC (Australia Broadcasting Corporation) news report: "Task force assigned to Mulrunji findings ...The Queensland Premier has established a high-level response team to work through each of the recommendations from a coroner's report into the death of a Palm Island man ...Peter Beattie says he has discussed the report with the Police Minister, Attorney General, Crown solicitor and members of his own department. He says the response team will prepare a recommendation for Cabinet, which will be examined before the end of the year. I would obviously appeal to people to accept the fact that the coroner's recommendations will need to be considered and they will be dealt with in two ways," he said. One, any future action concerning the officer concerned must go through due process and that's a matter for the DPP. Any issue in relation to individual recommendations for government will be considered by the high level task force." (www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200609/s1750532.htm; down loaded: 8:40 pm, 27th.09.06).
NEW 12th October 2006:
“Shame of palming off report”
The political response to a judicial inquiry is out of order, writes Andrew Boe the acting solicitor for the Doomadgee family:
6 October 2006 - Queensland's acting coroner Christine Clements last week published findings concerning the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee in Palm Island. He was found dead in a police cell in November 2004, less than an hour after being arrested for swearing as he was walking home. Clements found that Chris Hurley, a senior sergeant, angrily punched him several times while he was on the floor and that these actions "caused the fatal injuries".
Clements, who said Doomadgee should never have been arrested, severely criticised the entire police investigation. She added that "clear directives from the police commissioner and a commitment to ensure proper standards of investigation are required to restore public confidence". She was referring to the disinterest and obstructiveness by senior police called to give evidence.
It cannot be disputed that policing in indigenous communities is difficult. The well-documented socioeconomic failings in these communities cannot be ignored in any analysis or in devising effective policing policies. These difficulties cannot, however, condone police thuggery or collegiate and institutional indifference towards such conduct.
There has been significant political blustering as a result of these scathing findings. Important points have been deflected by Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, Police Minister Judy Spence and Premier Peter Beattie.
For example, much has been made about the coroner not recommending criminal charges. Yet amendments to the Coroners Act 2003 changed the function of coroners: they are no longer permitted to determine whether any person is to face trial.
The purpose of an inquest was refined so a coroner could get to the truth as to how a death occurred without being hindered by the rules of evidence that might apply in any trial.
The other public responses of the commissioner and the Government suggest these findings came as a surprise or have little relevance. These responses are disingenuous and unsatisfactory.
It is nearly two years since Doomadgee's death. The process took much longer than it should have, primarily due to two unsuccessful appeals brought by Atkinson and Hurley against some rulings made by Clements.
Atkinson first sought to prevent the parties having access to records of previous complaints made against Hurley (by others who claim to have been assaulted by him in Palm Island) and how they had been investigated (and dismissed) by the police. Second, they argued that a coroner was not entitled to take any of these previous matters into account in making her findings. These arguments were rejected in two Supreme Court rulings.
Throughout this process, police interests were forcefully asserted by senior counsel and teams of lawyers. Every opportunity was afforded to them to make their positions known in respect of damning evidence. Incidentally, the commissioner publicly declared his support for Hurley in The Australian on the first day of the inquest.
It is in this light that the failure of the commissioner to make any adequate response, or for Spence and Beattie to now criticise some of the recommendations, should be viewed. Each of them has been aware these issues were being canvassed in the inquest and none took the proper opportunity to sensibly contribute to this important independent judicial inquiry. The decision of the Government and commissioner not to make any submissions to the coroner was a cynical political exercise.
The inaction in respect of the findings is appalling. Announcements that a special taskforce would examine the coroner's findings to look at implementation, and that the commissioner would review matters before deciding what to do in respect of the findings, are insulting.
The suggestion that a taskforce could be impartially headed by the Premier's director-general is open to criticism that he will be conflicted in assessing whether to implement any recommendation because of his primary duty to protect the interests of his boss. He is being asked to assess Government decisions which may have contributed to the parlous state of policing in question.
Of course, nothing should interfere with the Department of Public Prosecutions' independent decision on whether to prosecute Hurley. However, does that absolve the entire administration from responding to these serious findings? The findings cannot be dismissed as mere allegations.
Finally, Gary Wilkinson, president of the Police Union, who contemptuously dismissed the findings as rubbish before embarking on a personal attack on Clements, most transparently reflects police interests in this matter.
However, the dismissal of Clements's findings by the Premier, the Police Minister and the commissioner is more concerning. It underpins the systemic and political disregard for any criticism of policing even if it follows a judicial process covering nearly two years and which comes from a judicial officer hand-picked by this Government.
A responsible government would act swiftly. The coroner's findings comprise the third official report that the Queensland Government has commissioned about Palm Island since the death and riots. The other two are from a parliamentary committee and from a lawyer. Both were commissioned by Beattie's Government and both are gathering dust.
Andrew Boe appeared for the Palm Island Council and community at the inquest.
Source: The Australian
More updates to follow!