Sunday, January 28, 2007

Justice for Mulrunji Doomadgee?

In 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody on Palm Island. His death at police hands led to a riot in which the police station and government buildings were burned to the ground. Now, over two years later, the police officer responsible for Doomadgee's death has finally been charged with manslaughter. And from the details of the officer's vicious assault (quoted here from an essay in The Monthly), it seems entirely appropriate:

Roy was sitting in the station’s yellow chair when Chris Hurley dragged Cameron Doomadgee into the hallway. Roy heard [’Mulrunji’] say, “I am innocent, don’t lock … Why should you lock me up?”

Chris dragged him in and he laid him down here and started kicking him. All I could see [was] the elbow gone down, up and down, like that … “Do you want more, Mister, Mr [’Mulrunji’]? Do you want more of these, eh, do you want more? You had enough?”

Roy’s view was partially obscured by a filing cabinet, but he could see [’Mulrunji’]’s legs sticking out. He could see the fist coming down, then up, then down: “I see knuckle closed.” Each time the fist descended he heard [’Mulrunji’] groan.

Cameron, he started kicking around and [called] “leave me go,” like that, “now”. “Leave me go – I’ll get up and walk.”

But Roy says Hurley did not stop:

Well, he tall, he tall, he tall, you know … just see the elbow going up and him down like that, you know, must have punched him pretty hard, didn’t he? Well, he was a sober man, and he was a drunken man.

Doomadgee was then dragged into the cells. Moments later, Chris Hurley came back and Roy saw him rubbing his chin. Hurley had a button undone. “Did he give you a good one?” Roy asked. “A helluva good one,” Hurley apparently replied. Then Hurley asked Roy if he had seen anything. Roy said no, and Hurley told him to leave. Roy went to get his social security cheque, along the way telling some friends, “Chris Hurley getting into [’Mulrunji’].” They told him, “Go tell someone, tell the Justice Group.” But none of them did anything. They went on drinking.

The cell’s surveillance tape shows [’Mulrunji’] writhing on a concrete floor, trying to find a comfortable position in which to die. He can be heard calling, “Help Me!” Another man, paralytic with drink, feebly pats his head. Before he dies [’Mulrunji’] rolls closer to the man, perhaps for warmth or comfort. The camera is installed in a high corner, and, from this angle, when Hurley and another police officer walk in they look enormous. The officer kicks at [’Mulrunji’] a few times – later referred to as “an arousal technique” – then leans over him, realising he is dead. At 11.22 am Senior Sergeant Hurley called an ambulance. Three minutes later the ambulance arrived and paramedics determined that [’Mulrunji’] had been dead for at least twenty minutes. The tape records Hurley sliding down the cell wall with his head in his hands. [’Mulrunji’], it would turn out, had a black eye, four broken ribs and a liver almost cleaved in two. His injuries were so severe that even with instant medical attention he was unlikely to have survived.

(Original emphasis).

Meanwhile, Queensland Police are outraged that one of their own could be facing charges, and threatening to strike. Apparently, they think that beating prisoners to death in the cells is part and parcel of the job, and that if the prosecution is successful, they'll have to stop doing it. Which is rather revealing of their attitude towards both the law, and the people they are supposed to be protecting.

Unfortunately, I don't have much faith that this will lead to justice. The Queensland Department of Public Prosecutions is simply not interested in holding the police to account - they originally refused to lay charges, and this decision has been taken only after a review by an out-of-state judge - so they are unlikely to put much effort into it in the courtroom. And of course the trial will be held in Brisbane, in front of an all-white jury, who are unlikely to care too much about the death of an aboriginal man. So, I expect the officer to be acquitted, and justice to be once again denied. But I hope to be pleasantly surprised.


"Apparently, they think that beating prisoners to death in the cells is part and parcel of the job, and that if the prosecution is successful, they'll have to stop doing it."

Come on I/S.

It's more apparent from the article you link to that they oppose political interference in prosecutions, and want the rule of law upheld. You would be incensed if Michael Cullen ordered the police to prosecute some political protester (or perhaps even anyone) in New Zealand, how is this different?

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 1/29/2007 01:28:00 AM


I'm not up with legal matters but it seems to me that justice must be done for Mulrunji Doomadgee.

If not the Attorney-General's action, then what is the correct procedure for charging a police officer in cases of murder/manslaughter?

Posted by Muerk : 1/29/2007 02:39:00 AM

yeah, but the so-called rule of law doesn't serve black people in australia.

in this case the "rule of law" seems to have actively impeded the prosecution of a white police officer BEATING A MAN TO DEATH who was his custody.

graeme, your cullen reference is a mildly offensive straw man. if the nzl police were as corrupt as queensland, then yes, you'd hope to hell a decent man would intervene.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/29/2007 07:16:00 AM

But haven't you heard, Che? The NZ Police force is corrupt! It's totally in thrall to the Liar-bour Klarkian regime of Helengrad, which is why the current govt of crooks of thieves hasn't been thrown in the slammer by outraged rozzers and the Tory Natural Party of Government re-installed. They told us all about it over on Kiwiblog.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 1/29/2007 07:47:00 AM


and further to my last comment there is this:,20867,21133332-2702,00.html

here's the bit you might want to read
"Doomadgee, 36, was arrested by Sergeant Hurley for swearing. When taken from the police vehicle outside the watchhouse, Doomadgee struck Sergeant Hurley in the face. A tussle ensued inside the building, resulting in the Aboriginal man being found dead 20 minutes later in his cell, having suffered four broken ribs and bleeding to death from his liver being torn in half.

The findings of a subsequent coronial inquiry included that Sergeant Hurley was responsible for the death of Doomadgee, but that was rejected by Ms Clare, who said there was not evidence to charge the police officer with anything, and that Doomadgee had died as the result of "a tragic accident".

Indigenous leaders, lawyers and politicians had voiced loud objection to Ms Clare's findings and the Queensland Government then sought an independent review of the evidence, appointing Sir Laurence to do the job."

the 'political interference' you're refering to is in fact the state being held accountable.

i would argue that there needs to be a review of ms. clare's decision to waive charges against the officer in question, because that is in fact the interference.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/29/2007 09:03:00 AM

The charge should be murder, and the other police who stood by should be charged accessories. At least the coroner isn't corrupt.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/29/2007 09:24:00 AM

There needs to be a context here. It is all very well to quote some comments of Roy Bramwell and type that. However even the acting coroner who relied on Bramwell's comments to indicate that Hurley should be investigated further said:

“I find that Roy Bramwell was quite excited in giving his account at the re-enactment and there is some embellishment, but the basis of what he saw is credible given the overall sequence of events and the injury sustained.”

Quoting Bramwell at his most excited to make Hurley look bad is not the best thing to do.

In a context where Hurley and Mulrunji had just fallen downstairs at the police station Hurley apparently stood up and bent over Mulrunji who was lying on the ground. According to Hurley he was trying to get Mulrunji to stand up. Mulrunji didn't get up. He just lay there until another police officer arrived and they both dragged Mulrunji to a cell. Hurley doesn't admit to any violence and just claims to have tried to encourage Mulrunji to get up thinking that he was mucking around.

However Bramwell originally said that between the fall and the drag he saw Hurley punching Mulrunji in the head and then kicking him. On the medical evidence neither of these things could have caused the death and even the acting coroner who relied on Bramwell's evidence only accepted the punching. Hurley should not have punched Mulrunji in the head (if he did so) but that isn't the basis for manslaughter. Mulrunji died from liver damage.

The acting coroner worked around this by half accepting the evidence and then inferring that Bramwell didn't see what he said he saw but instead saw something that could explain the death. She said it is open for her to put evidence in his mouth (so to speak). She may be correct. This creativity might be fine. Coroners don't determine guilt or innocence so they aren't constrained by court rules that ensure that people get fair trials. They can just about do whatever they want. They do an inquiry, make findings, and if they are suspicious of someone they refer them to the DPP.

After the coronial inquiry two independant departments found that there was insufficient evidence to implicate Hurley in Mulrunji's death.

The DPP considered that there was insufficient evidence to charge Hurley with manslaughter.

Likewise the Criminal Misconduct Commission (CMC) had the matter referred to them for potential disciplinary charges and determined that the evidence was not capable of proving before any disciplinary tribunal that Hurley was responsible for the death.

Beattie hired a legal gun to second guess the DPP decision and the man Beattie paid naturally argued something different.

The CMC vindication doesn't normally get media airlay because only mentioning DPP means more sensation. Qld DPP past performance hasn't been perfect. In one case they didn't charge someone with rape because the victim said they were sexually aroused and orgasmed. The DPP didn't prosecute the rapist without encouragement. (The issue in rape is consent not how turned on victims are by the encounter) In another case the DPP prosecuted a magistrate who was found guilty by a jury but the High Court found that the magistrate should have been immune and freed her. Finally in Hanson's case where again a decision was overturned after a guilty finding by a jury the DPP were criticized for prosecuting as the Supreme Court didn't think that a witness was credible. Obviously as a result of the need to avoid any further embarassment and the high profile nature of the Hurley decision the department would have been extremely careful to get it right. No wonder their decision paralleled the CMC's.

Therefore to claim that objection to political interference in the justice system is the same as wanting a right to beat prisoners to death is absurd. There was political interference that meant that a man is facing a year of Criminal trial and job suspension in circumstances where the justice system wouldn't have charged him if things went the normal course. The DPP decision was vindicated by other independent experts (CMC) who made the same decision in a separate related matter.

All the experts who are independant believe that there is insufficient evidence to charge Hurley. He is now going to trial.

The lynch mob are happy to screw justice because it is a white cop and an aboriginal man dead. Whether or not the cop is innocent, he and his family can be punished and made an example of. This attitude of 'screw justice when it suits us' has been the main problem in the other direction. By buying in it perpetuates that problem.

Justice must be promoted not screwed or whoever is out of favour gets screwed. Everyone who wants a positive long term outcome should be screaming their outrage that Hurley got charged due to political interference not making sarcastic comments about police objections. That is the only way to fix the problem.

Dr Martin Luther King in a speech in 1967 said that leaders always say that another war will result in peace but evil means don't result in good ends because the means are the seed and the end is the tree. Aboriginal people will never get justice without advocating it even when it doesn't feel good. Hurley's situation is the test of the integrity of people who want justice for aboriginal people. The outcome will determine the future.

Posted by Anonymous : 3/19/2007 03:01:00 PM

Interesting that the pathologist who gave evidence yesterday stated that "...his best guess was that the injury may have occurred actually when the pair fell..."

The Australian have long belittled the fall theory leading many bloggers to say that Hurley obviously punched Mulrunji to death like the coroner concluded yet the medical expert says this.

I note also that when asked about punching he said "Look I can't exclude that absolutely but there isn't any evidence to support that proposition such as bruising, for instance."

Food for thought.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/14/2007 12:26:00 PM

The verdict is in. Hurley is innocent.

How much bs has gone down over the years to get to this point not to mention a $7million investigation and prosecution that just led to the inescapable conclusion that Hurley was innocent beyond reasonable doubt.

Shame on all those who were prepared to override the fundamental civil rights of a man just because of skin colour or occupation.

Shame on all those who used the death for their own purposes and had Mulrunji's son mistakenly thinking that Hurley killed his dad. He committed suicide and will never know about this verdict.

Posted by Anonymous : 6/26/2007 05:22:00 PM