No justice a decade on from horrific Palm Island death in custody


It's been 10 years years since the violent death in custody of Palm Island man Cameron Doomadgee - an event that sparked a mass riot and still leaves his family, and an entire community, struggling for answers.

On November 19th 2004, Cameron Doomadgee, also known as Mulrunji, was arrested for allegedly causing a public nuisance.

He was taken into custody by Senior Sargeant Chris Hurley, accompanied by the Indigenous Liaison Police officer Lloyd Bengaroo.

Within an hour Mr Doomadge was found dead in a cell at Palm Island police station. He suffered a cut above his right eye, four broken ribs, his portal vein was ruptured and his liver almost split in two against his spine.

"I rang the Police Station. Chris Hurley answered and he asked me who I was," explained Mr Doomadgee's sister, Valmae Doomadgee-Aplin. "After I gave him all my information he handed me on to somebody else. He just said "we can't talk about it" and just hung up."

A week later an autopsy report revealed the gravity of Mr Doomadgee's injuries, and sparked a riot that saw its police station and barracks burnt to the ground. 

A state of emergency followed where 80 police officers, including a riot squad, were deployed.

 "He was like our backbone of the family," said another of Mr Doomadgee's sisters, Jane. "We all help each other today. We're here to be strong for each other. 

"We will never ever forget our baby brother because they took him away from us."

Then and now

Palm Island resident Lex Wotton was there when Mr Doomadgee was picked up by police, and would go on to serve two years of a seven year prison sentence for inciting the riots.
"I'd still do what I did then," he said. "It was about making a statement. I don't regret it all.
"(It cost me) not only my liberty by also the suffering of my family. I know they went through a lot."
Sergeant Hurley became the first police officer in recent Australian history to stand trial over a death in custody. 
He was acquitted of manslaughter, prompting further outrage.
"The judicial system in this country is not controlled by black Australia. It's controlled by white Australia," said Aboriginal Shire Council Mayor Alf Lacey. "The pendulum is also going to be on their side and not our side."
The final coroner's report, along with the state anti-corruption agency report found police colluded to protect Sergeant Hurley and their investigation tainted the evidence.

What's changed?

Deaths in custody investigations and police disciplinary procedures were overhauled, but the recommendation that six officers be charged never happened. 

After $7 million spent prosecuting the case, some police received compensation while two Palm Islanders were jailed for rioting.

"I think things have changed for the better," explains Greg Shadbolt from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service. "There's a lot of respect for the commissioner and deputy commissioner. But Palm Island specifically, things haven't improved.

"Justice reinvestment is the key. Governments need to address underlying cases, that will reduce offending rates making for safer communities. It's far cheaper to address offending behaviour than locking people up."

In a statement, the Crime and Corruption Commission said it's "working with the QPS and the State Coroner to finalise a new Memorandum of Understanding, which will further define the roles of each agency following a death related to a police operation to ensure there is appropriate transparency and independent oversight of these investigations."

Lex Wotton is now leading a class action against Queensland on behalf of Palm Islanders. Though Aboriginal rights advocate Professor Gracelyn Smallwood said it's not about the money.

"It's about justice and letting the world know that the unresolved trauma is still there on Palm Island," she said.

Source World News Australia

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