Doomadgee officers escape bans
Michael McKenna and Ian Gerard
9th October 2006

TWO policemen criticised by the coroner examining the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee will not be suspended alongside the arresting officer blamed for killing the Palm Island man.

Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was voluntarily suspended with pay over the weekend after Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements last month ruled he was responsible for the death of Doomadgee, 35, after his arrest for public drunkenness in November 2004. In her judgment, Ms Clements also criticised Aboriginal police liaison officer Lloyd Bengaroo, who was present when Doomadgee was arrested, and Detective Sergeant Darren Robinson, who initially investigated the death in custody.

Palm Island Mayor Erika Kyle yesterday said that while she welcomed the suspension of Sergeant Hurley, she could not understand how the other officers were still working. "One would have that thought that it would be the same for them," she said.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is assessing Ms Clements's ruling that Sergeant Hurley struck Doomadgee several times before police left the man in a holding cell, where he died.

Ms Clements ruled that the testimony of Mr Bengaroo, a Palm Island local, was "unreliable" in the face of his varying accounts of the lead-up to Doomadgee's death. Mr Bengaroo has been on leave and is expected to return to duties on Palm Island within a week.

The conduct of Sergeant Robinson, one of Sergeant Hurley's colleagues and friends, was also raised in the inquest.

Sergeant Robinson rejected suggestions he had tried to cover up for his friend, with whom he shared a meal, along with other police, at Sergeant Hurley's home the night of the death. But he admitted he felt uncomfortable being involved in the investigation. Ms Clements ruled it was reprehensible that the initial police investigations into the death were so lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence.

Sergeant Robinson, who is serving in Townsville, is also being investigated by the Crime and Misconduct Commission over allegations he threatened a key witness against Sergeant Hurley that: "If anything happens to Hurley, you're next."

A police spokeswoman yesterday said the two officers would remain on duty. "It is appropriate that the DPP makes a decision on any possible criminal charges before misconduct or disciplinary matters are fully considered," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

After the Coroner's judgment, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson refused to suspend Sergeant Hurley but, after public criticism, moved him to non-operational duties. Sergeant Hurley issued a statement on Saturday night saying he "reluctantly" offered to stand aside. "I want to reiterate my position that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing, and that Mulrunji's death was a tragic accident," he said.

Anthropologist Barbara Glowczewski, director of research at France's National Scientific Research Centre, is writing a book on Doomadgee's death and the riots on the island. Alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton will co-author "Warriors for Peace" with Ms Glowczewski, who said Europeans were aware of life in Aboriginal communities because of indigenous art's popularity.