An Aboriginal man dies in custody of internal injuries. His son and cellmate commit suicide. The arresting officer walks free........ Article by Tony Koch, lifted from The Australian.
IT was just after midday on a searing hot Queensland summer's day when a crowd of Aborigines assembled outside the modest Palm Island Council chambers to hear the findings of an autopsy on Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, who had been found dead in the local police cell a week earlier. On that fateful Friday, November 26, 2004, they were told the pathologist found Doomadgee had suffered four broken ribs, a ruptured liver and punctured portal vein that caused him to bleed to death within an hour. The crowd was told the doctor believed Doomadgee's death was accidental.
They rioted. Up to 200 people walked the short distance to the local police station and burned it to the ground, along with the adjoining courthouse and a police residence. Nobody was injured but more than 26 locals were arrested on charges ranging from destruction of property to arson.
The turmoil attracted national and international attention. When a coronial inquest was held to determine how Doomadgee died, a bevy of lawyers came to the island, representing the Doomadgee family, the police service, police commissioner, Palm Island Council and the Human Rights Commission. The focus of attention was the officer in charge of police on Palm Island for the preceding two years: Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, then 36, a man who stood out in any crowd with his towering 200cm, 115kg frame.
Hurley, a former bank officer who joined the police service in 1987, had spent most of his police career in remote Aboriginal communities in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York Peninsula.
About 10.15am on Friday, November 19, 2004, Hurley was driving the police Toyota Hilux on a back street of Palm Island in the company of Aboriginal resident Lloyd Bengaroo, who was employed as a police liaison officer to act as interpreter, supply local knowledge, solve problems and assist police and Palm Islanders. One of his main duties was to protect the interests of indigenous people and ensure they were treated lawfully: something he failed palpably to do.
While Hurley was arresting Patrick Bramwell (also known as Patrick Nugent), who was drunk and swearing, Doomadgee came walking along the footpath singing a hip-hop song, Who Let the Dogs Out. He stopped and called out to Bengaroo that he should not be arresting black people, as he was black himself. Doomadgee then allegedly swore at Bengaroo. Hurley asked Bengaroo who the man was and what he had said. When told, Hurley arrested Doomadgee and asked if he had a problem with police. Doomadgee objected to being picked up and was heard to ask: "Why are you arresting me? I've done nothing wrong."
Doomadgee, who was very drunk, was placed in the back of the van with Bramwell and they were driven to the back of the police station. When Hurley opened the back door of the cage on the vehicle and grabbed Doomadgee to get him out, Doomadgee struck him across the jaw with what Hurley described as "a backhand punch".
Hurley then grabbed Doomadgee's shirt and shoulders from behind and began to force him through the narrow doorway into the police station.
The court case that began last week hinged on events from that point: crossing the concrete entrance step. The jury was asked to consider closely everything that followed to establish whether Hurley unlawfully killed his prisoner. When the trial began in the Townsville Supreme Court on Tuesday last week, prosecutor Peter Davis SC caused some surprise when he announced the defence had conceded the injuries that resulted in Doomadgee's death occurred within a short period following the fall on the step.
The Crown alleged the two fell on to the floor. Hurley then rose and, with Doomadgee on his back on the concrete floor, "knee-dropped" into Doomadgee's abdomen.
Bengaroo, who was standing near the back of the police vehicle, claimed in statements to police investigators that he did not witness what was going on.
He said: "I can't remember. I just stood there because I was thinking if I see something, I might get into trouble or something. The family might harass me or something, you know." He was not called at the trial because of his unreliability.
Constable Kristopher Steadman, who had arrived on Palm Island only the day before, saw the scuffle and gave evidence that he saw two pairs of feet on the floor at the doorway and it appeared that Hurley was on top of Doomadgee. He said he did not see anything more. Some may think it strange that a young constable, seeing his superior officer struggling on the floor with a prisoner, did not take greater interest or offer assistance.
Hurley's defence counsel relied heavily on Steadman's evidence, saying it was in this stage in the fall, when the "two pairs of feet were together, one on top of the other", that the lethal injuries must have occurred and that they were obviously accidental. The prosecution contended that the knee-drop occurred immediately afterwards. That was the conundrum presented to the jury.
Evidence given by medical experts at the coronial inquest and again at the trial was that it would have required "massive force" to inflict the fatal injuries. All three experts agreed that a knee was the likely "bodily protrusion" that caused it. None could express an opinion on whether such an action was deliberate or accidental.
The key point is how Doomadgee landed when he and Hurley fell. In his recorded statement that afternoon and the following day, Hurley said he fell beside the prisoner, not on him. It was put to the jury that Doomadgee must have fallen on his stomach through the door as Hurley had him from the back, and he could not have sustained the injuries as described from the back.
On this point all three medical experts said the injury was from the front, compressing the liver on to the spine, where it was severed, the portal vein punctured and four ribs broken in a line.
Prosecutor Davis went so far as to say that it would have required Doomadgee to be like a "reincarnated Rudolph Nureyev" to perform the pirouette required for him to suddenly land on his back and for the injuries to then be inflicted, accidentally or otherwise.
When Hurley gave evidence last Friday he conceded that he "must have come into contact" with Doomadgee and caused the fatal injuries but said that was "a grey area" in his memory.
It was pointed out by Davis in his final address to the jury on Tuesday that Hurley had a clear recollection of so much else on that fateful morning: who he spoke to, who was standing where, who said what, where he grabbed Doomadgee and even precisely where the police vehicle was parked.
In explaining the change in his testimony - after he had said on three occasions within 24 hours of the incident that he fell beside Doomadgee - Hurley told the court last Friday: "I would say that if I didn't know the medical evidence that came to light out of the post-mortems, if I hadn't sat in the court for the past week listening to what the witnesses said, I would sit in this box today and say that I still fell beside him."
In his address to the jury, defence counsel Bob Mulholland QC said Hurley would always know that he was the "accidental instrument of another young man dying and that is a cross he will carry for the rest of his life, whatever happens here".
At the coronial inquest last year, the police station security footage was played, showing Doomadgee on the floor of the police cell, sometimes writhing and moaning slightly, then eventually lying still as he died.
Shortly after, Hurley checked Doomadgee and Bramwell, pushing Doomadgee with the toe of his boot. Then, 57 minutes after Doomadgee had been placed in the cell, Sergeant Michael Leafe found him dead.
The video shows Hurley coming in, confirming there was no breathing or pulse, then sliding down the wall of the cell until he sat with his face in his hands. Neither police officer attempted cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Doomadgee.
The police investigation that followed was possibly the most disgraceful part of the tragedy. Hurley was at the airport to pick up the police team that flew in from Townsville; two of its members were close friends of his. He drove the team back to his home, cooked them dinner and they all had a few beers.
The cell was never declared a crime scene and Hurley continued to work on the island for the next few days.
He was moved off when it became obvious the islanders were not going to accept the declaration of accidental death.
In her findings, coroner Christine Clements said 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. Clements's findings were rejected by Queensland's Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare, who declared on reading the evidence that Doomadgee had died in a "tragic accident".
That was overruled by state Attorney-General Kerry Shine, who ordered a review of Clare's decision by former NSW chief justice Laurence Street, who recommended manslaughter charges be laid against Hurley.
As Clare had already said nobody from her office would prosecute Hurley despite any independent review, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie appointed Davis from the private bar.
Last week's prosecution of Hurley for manslaughter was conducted under excruciating circumstances. Davis received precious little help from authorities vested with the obligation to deliver law and order in Queensland.
As Townsville-based activist Gracelyn Smallwood said after yesterday's verdict: "We have to accept the decision of an all-white jury and we will do so with dignity but with the knowledge that the whole world is watching any future incident where a cop in this state even thinks about bashing a black or white boy or girl in their custody.
"This has not ended the way we wanted it to, but it has been a win on our slow climb up the Everest of justice."
Doomadgee's partner Tracey Twaddle says she is "tired of fighting", adding: "I didn't expect anything different."
Andrew Bartlett has a view on this matter also. http://andrewbartlett.com/faq.php?id=14&category=4