Cops slammed over Palm Island cover up, but where’s the justice?

Queensland’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, has released a damning condemnation of police conduct over the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee in 2004.  The ensuing political crisis has engulfed Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, Premier Anna Bligh and cast the shadow of corruption over the entire Queensland police force.

The report is scathing of the police investigation of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, the man responsible for Mulrunji’s death.
CMC Chairperson, Martin Moynihan, described the investigation as “gravely compromised,” adding it, “paid no heed to the QPS’s own policies and procedures, let alone it’s Code of Conduct”.  He went on to accuse several police officers of willfully neglecting their obligations, colluding over statements and distorting evidence to shift blame away from Hurley.

One of the accused officers, Sergeant Darren Robinson, a friend of Hurley’s, was heavily criticised for his role in the investigation. Witnesses described Robinson’s total disregard for impartial investigation procedures.

Roy Bramwell an Aboriginal witness to Hurley’s attack on Mulrunji, testified how Robinson intimidated him as he gave his statement, “I told police he kicked him and all that, but he [Robinson] crushed it and put it in the trash. He then took me and made a second statement. They told me if I told anyone what I saw they would come after me.”

The CMC report has recommended disciplinary measures against Robinson and several other officers, but stopped short of pursuing criminal charges.
Describing a “deeply flawed” investigation, the report, cast the police misconduct into a wider context of an insular “self-protecting” police culture, raising the spectre of the pre- Fitzgerald years. It is a culture which Police Commissioner, Bob Atkinson, has presided over for years.  Indeed, the CMC are demanding action from Atkinson.

In an unprecedented move, the CMC has given Atkinson 14 days to outline how he will discipline the six officers named in the report. Atkinson and the Police Union have publicly opposed the demand. But the CMC has stated that if Atkinson does not act, then it will take independent action against the police.

The storm of controversy also swept into parliament with Premier Anna Bligh facing accusations that she misled parliament over the re-appointment of Atkinson earlier this year. As CMC chairperson, Martin Moynihan, was legally required to approve the candidate. Moynihan has disputed Bligh’s claim that he was properly consulted.

Far from accepting any responsibility, however, Bligh appears to have cut Atkinson loose and insisted that he meet the 14 day deadline set by the CMC.

A flawed system
While the controversy may cost Commissioner Atkinson his job and embarrassed Premier Bligh, the disgraceful affair leaves the people of Palm Island still waiting for justice.

In May, a third coronial inquiry in to Mulrunji’s death, allowed Sergeant Hurley to again escape full responsibility for his actions.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine found that Hurley had punched Mulrunji several times while he lay on the floor. But Hine stopped short of ruling that the 115kg police sergeant had deliberately inflicted the force to Mulrinji’s abdomen that broke his ribs, lacerated his liver and ruptured his portal vein. He delivered an open verdict.

Since 2004, Hurley has successfully claimed compensation of around $100,000 for property he says was destroyed during the protest riot that followed Mulrunji’s death. The CMC is now investigating Hurley for possible fraud and also the evidence that indicates Hurley changed his statement after being told what was other witnesses were going to say to the original inquiry.

There has been no compensation for Mulrunji’s family.  His partner, Tracey Twaddle, said she had received “not one red cent of compensation.”  Ms Twaddle later said that she had given up any hope of getting justice.

The broader Palm Island community are equally disappointed. The island’s mayor, Alf Lacey, expressed the community’s anger, “How can they spend all this time and money not to come up with any criminal charges. If those police did wrong, they should be put in jail…Black or white, what do you say when the system (that is) supposed to protect you, fails you?”

Martin Moynihan insists that public confidence needs to be restored in the police after they “failed the people of Palm Island, the broader Indigenous community and the public generally.” But the CMC has revealed a far deeper failure – a so-called justice system that is racist from top to bottom, and a Labor government that is damned by its willingness to cover it up. Lex Wotton, the Palm Island man charged for taking part in the riot is still in jail while the racist cops walk free.

Carl Taylor


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