No charges over Aboriginal jail death

Queensland's director of public prosecutions has decided that no charges will be
laid against policeman Chris Hurley over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee
who died and was buried on Palm Island, above, in 2004.
Photo: Andy Zakeli

Dave Donaghy and Paul Osborne
Palm Island

December 15, 2006

EXTRA police were on standby last night to quell potential violence on Palm Island after Queensland's chief prosecutor decided not to lay charges against a policeman blamed over a death in custody.

Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare announced yesterday that charges would not be laid against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

In September, deputy state coroner Christine Clements found Senior Sergeant Hurley struck Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, and caused his fatal injuries on November 19, 2004, at the police station on Palm Island, off Townsville.

The island erupted into riots a week later after an autopsy found Mr Doomadgee suffered four broken ribs, a liver almost cut in two and a ruptured portal vein in a watchhouse scuffle. The police station was set alight.

Ms Clements found then that police left him to die after the bashing, despite cries for help, and later made no attempt to resuscitate him.

"Senior Sergeant Hurley lost his temper … (and) hit Mulrunji whilst he was on the floor a number of times," Ms Clements said. "I find there was no further resistance or indeed any speech or response from Mulrunji. I conclude that these actions of Senior Sergeant Hurley caused the fatal injuries."

But yesterday Ms Clare said the death had been due to a "complicated fall" and was a "terrible accident". Ms Clare said Mr Doomadgee died from internal injuries caused "by a crushing force to the front of his abdomen" when he and Senior Sergeant Hurley fell together through the open door of the police station.

She said autopsy results showed neither kicks nor punches caused Mr Doomadgee's death. "On the evidence, the fall is the only satisfactory explanation for the injuries identified by the doctors," Ms Clare said.

"In other words, the admissible evidence suggests that Mr Doomadgee's death was a terrible accident." Ms Clare flew to Townsville to explain the decision to Mr Doomadgee's family.

His sister, Valmai Aplin, said she was devastated by yesterday's decision.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie said it was time for the community to move on. "What's important here is we build for the future and we are endeavouring to work with the Palm Island community," he said.

Queensland's Crime and Misconduct Commission said it had found there was insufficient evidence to justify disciplinary action against Senior Sergeant Hurley, but Police Minister Judy Spence said the police ethical standards command would now conduct its own probe.

The investigation would look at whether Mr Doomadgee was given appropriate first aid once he was arrested and the quality of the initial investigation, conducted by colleagues of Senior Sergeant Hurley, who was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Townsville-based Aboriginal activist Gracelyn Smallwood said yesterday's decision was another slap in the face for indigenous Australians.

"It was very clear in the coroner's report that our brother was murdered," said Ms Smallwood, who has called for a national day of action next week.

"What's going to happen to our warriors who burnt the police station down — are they going to go to jail for life? We've been putting up with this for the last 216 years."