Coroner poised to condemn police union

By: Tony Koch

THE Queensland Police Union's attempts to control information and evidence on the 2004 death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee is expected to come under attack when state Coroner Brian Hine delivers his findings in coming months.
Submissions from all counsel involved in the third inquest held into Doomadgee's violent death were delivered to the coroner last week, and he will consider them before making his decision on who, if anybody, contributed to the death that occurred in the Palm Island police cell on November 19, 2004.
Doomadgee, 36, was arrested by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. Sergeant Hurley was charged last year with the manslaughter of his prisoner but was found not guilty by a Supreme Court jury in Townsville.
He then sought through the courts to have set aside a finding by Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements that he was responsible for Doomadgee's death.
Subsequent appeals saw the matter referred back to the coroner to rehear evidence specifically on how Doomadgee died, and if any person was in any way responsible for the death.
The hearing last month demonstrated how effectively the Queensland Police Union ``takes over'' an incident or crime scene where serving police officers who are union members might come under critical scrutiny.
Also demonstrated was the compliance of the Crime and Misconduct Commission in allowing the QPU to exercise such control.
When Doomadgee was arrested he was very drunk, and Sergeant Hurley arrested him for swearing at Police Liaison Officer Lloyd Bengaroo, put him in the cage in the back of the police utility vehicle and took him to the watchhouse.
A struggle ensued as Sergeant Hurley, a much bigger man than Doomadgee, forced him through the doorway at the rear of the police station to be put in a cell.
Evidence given to the inquest is that the pair tripped on a shallow step and then fell inside on the concrete floor.
Sergeant Hurley's evidence has always been that he fell beside Doomadgee, not on top of him; he is adamant he did not administer a ``knee drop'' on the prisoner as he was prostrate on the floor. Whatever happened at that moment -- and that is the decision Mr Hine will have to make -- the result was catastrophic.
Doomadgee went from being a singing, swinging drunk to a listless, unconscious form -- suddenly suffering four broken ribs, his liver cleaved almost in two and with several bruises to his face. Thirty minutes later, he was dead.
In the Palm Island police station at the time were Sergeant Hurley and two other police officers, Sergeant Michael Leafe and Constable Kris Steadman, along with Liaison Officer Bengaroo. Seated in the office was a heavily intoxicated man detained over several serious assaults, Roy Bramwell.
A week after Doomadgee's death, the autopsy report revealed his appalling injuries. The QPU then dispatched what they term their ``critical incident team'', a lawyer and QPU officials.
Solicitor Glen Cranny, a partner in Brisbane firm Gilshenan and Luton, is the lawyer most often briefed by the QPU, and he took control. The QPU told Sergeant Hurley, Sergeant Leafe, Constable Steadman and Liaison Officer Bengaroo it would provide their legal representation. Cranny represented all four; later the list included Detective Darren Robinson.
Counsel assisting the coroner at the latest inquest, Ralph Devlin QC, and counsel representing the Doomadgee family, Andrew Boe, questioned at great length the appropriateness of this multiple-client legal representation.
It became so much a focal point that Mr Cranny, the instructing solicitor for the QPU who attended all sessions of the three inquests, was called as a witness to explain his involvement and that of other solicitors for the QPU.
In cross-examination at the inquest last month, Mr Boe made the clear assertion that, at the very least, the opportunity existed for the statements of each of the police witnesses to ``dovetail''
to the benefit of Sergeant Hurley.
Police witnesses refused to co-operate with the CMC or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions when evidence was being gathered for Sergeant Hurley's manslaughter prosecution until they were directed to do so by Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson. QPU lawyers insisted on sitting in on each interview of a police witness.
According to a tape of one of the interviews, when one police officer gave a response about what he saw happen between Sergeant Hurley and Doomadgee, Mr Cranny interjected, and the police officer changed his answer.
Mr Hine is expected to consider the written submissions in the case, and then allow counsel to make oral submissions before he hands down his findings.