Two weeks after the damning findings of the inquest into Mulrungi Doomadgee’s death, and after raging public debate, senior Sergeant Chris Hurley announced that he had "reluctantly" volunteered to stand down from police duties. This is a temporary measure by Hurley to step down until the DPP has reached its decision as to whether charges are to be pressed. Chris Hurley will has stood down on full pay. He has stated that he believes he will be “vindicated” over Mulrunji’s death. The inquest report recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions consider charging the Senior Sergeant.
Police Minister Judy Spence last night said: "In my view, it is better in most circumstances if public servants are given alternative duties rather than being sent home on full pay but I appreciate the intense media and public scrutiny of Sen-Sgt Hurley's situation has made his return to work very difficult (The Sunday Mail, 8th October 2006).
From the first day the inquest report was handed down Premier Peter Beattie & Police Minister Judy Spence, have supported the police commissioner Bob Atkinson’s decision not to suspend nor charge Chris Hurley: “…what happens in the mean time is a matter for the police commissioner and we’ll support whatever decision he makes” Mr Beattie said (The Australian 28th/09/06). The Courier Mail reported that Beattie & Atkinson “…refused to condemn a police officer accused of killing an Aboriginal man amid increasing calls for the senior sergeant to be suspended” (www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,023494540-2,00.html)
To date, the only member of State Parliament to publically criticise the government & police commissioners stand on not taking action against Hurley, has been Parliamentary Labor Speaker Mike Reynolds. Mike Reynolds is the member for Townsville whose electorate includes Palm Island. Mr Reynolds’s media statement said “…After reading the report I find it extraordinarily puzzling, given other precedents in the standing down of government staff whose actions are under question …it is my belief that he should be stood down and I would like to see the DPP come up with a decision as soon as they possibly could”. Mr Reynolds stated over ABC radio that he was “ashamed” of the way the Beattie Government & police had handled the matter of Mulrungi’s death & the so called Palm Island riot. Peter Beattie stated on ABC News Radio this week that he respected Mike Reynolds’s stand, but did not agree with him. In a political move Premier Peter Beattie has this last week begun to distance himself from the issue, by stating it is a matter for police commissioner Atkinson to decide upon Hurley’s future with the police service.
Australian Democrates deputy Leader Senator Andrew Bartlet, said major reforms were needed to the way the police deal with Aboriginal people: “…we are calling for the recommendations to be implemented urgently and properly to prevent repetitions of senseless deaths in custody and finally get out of this historical rut our nation is in”. Senator Bartlet said: “…that this case highlights a wider failure in the way the police & justice system engaged with indigenous people. Not all police are racist, but the treatment metered out to indigenous people by some police and the system they work within is historically entrenched in our history and culture and this must be dealt with once and for all”. (National Indigenous Times, Issue 114 - 21 Sep 2006, down loaded 28th/09/06).
It is now in the hands of Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms Leanne Clare to decide upon what course of action to take. It has been stated that the DPP will only press charges if there was a case strong enough to result in a conviction (The Australian, 28th/09/06).
The Aboriginal community & growing public opinion is that Chriss Hurley should have been charged in the first instance, in the hours following Mulrungi’s death. Activist Sam Watson has called for Hurley to be treated the same as any other member of the public, stating there seems to be one rule of law for the community & one rule of law for the police. “This is a matter that must be investigated given Chriss Hurley’s violent record, ” Mr Watson said (Community meeting, 6th October 06).
Sydney lawyer and human rights advocate Stewart Levitt said the finding that Sgt Hurley had struck Mulrunji causing his death, raised concerns over the handling of violence against Aborigines in custody. "Not a single arrest was made in the period of seven days between Mulrunji's death in custody and the Palm Island riots," he said. "Without the good work of the Deputy State Coroner, it is likely the only people to be punished for what happened to Mulrunji and inducing the grief reaction of the Palm Islanders, would be the victims and not the perpetrators." Mr Levitt urged the Queensland government to review all cases that involve Aboriginal injury or death suffered in police custody. (National Indigenous Times, Issue 114 - 21 Sep 2006).
Palm Island council CEO Barry Moyle said the mood on the island was "one of relief" but residents faced another agonizing wait now to see whether Sgt Hurley would face charges. "They believe they have found justice today... but there is a sequel to come and that's when we need to see justice carried out," he said. (National Indigenous Times, Issue 114 - 21 Sep 2006).
Palm Island Mayor Erykah Kyle said the community would welcome the decision. "It just makes common sense to us. Anyone else would be stood aside," she said. "It's one step. It will lift people's spirits” (The Sunday Mail, 8th October 2006).
In closing: excerpts from the transcript of ABC - "radio AM".
Reporter Kate Scanlan (Thursday, 28 September, 2006 08:12:00)
1. Mr David Biles (David Biles Drafted guidelines for the prevention of Aboriginal deaths in custody: Australian deaths in custody 1980-1988): “I must say this is a most disappointing outcome to find a case so much like the cases we investigated during the late 70s and early 80s …it seems that it's possible that vigilance or ultra care has lessened, and maybe we're going to see some more cases like this in the future, which is all very sad.”
2. LES MALEZER (Former Director of Aboriginal Affairs in the South Australia & Director of “THE FOUNDATION FOR ABORIGINAL & ISLANDER RESEARCH ACTION”: “There are as many deaths in custody occurring now as there were before the Royal Commission”. There are more Aboriginal people in prison than there were before the Royal Commission. There are more youths being put into custody and care than there were before the Royal Commission. So the fact is for the next 20 or 30 years there's going to be an increase in this situation, and you know, to me that is not any sign that the Royal Commission findings were taken seriously by the Government.
3. TOM CALMA (Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commissioner): “And it's about time that they started, instead of going out and criticising Aboriginal people for failing, looked in their own backyards and seeing how they're failing Aboriginal people.”