Mulrunji tip-off spoils case


THE investigation into the 2004 death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee was stripped of credibility because of a ``perception of collusion'' between local detectives and the policeman who caused the Aborigine's fatal injuries.
But Queensland Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine, delivering the findings of the third coronial inquest into the affair, found yesterday there was no evidence that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley had meant to inflict the injuries that killed Doomadgee.
The open finding on whether his death was accidental or deliberately caused by Sergeant Hurley dashed the family's professed hopes to finally secure ``closure''.
Doomadgee, 36, died after he was arrested while drunk on Palm Island, off Townsville, on November 19, 2004, creating such outrage in the community that people rioted a week later.
The original inquest was abandoned when Queensland State Coroner Michael Barnes stood down to avoid a perception of bias while the findings of the second inquiry, blaming Sergeant Hurley, were quashed after he was acquitted of charges of manslaughter and assault.
Mr Hine reported yesterday that Sergeant Hurley had been tipped off about crucial witness accounts by the police who carried out the initial investigation into the death in custody, creating the perception of collusion.
The involvement of detectives who either knew Sergeant Hurley or were from the local district command was unsatisfactory, inappropriate and undermined the credibility of the investigation, Mr Hine said.
And it was probable Sergeant Hurley had lied in giving evidence that he had not realised he had fallen on Doomadgee after the Aborigine punched him and they had scuffled in the doorway of the lock-up.
But there was no evidence to support a finding that Sergeant Hurley had made a conscious choice to land on Doomadgee with such force that it ruptured his liver and smashed four ribs.
Mr Hine said the crush injury was probably caused by the shoulder or hip of the tall and heavily built policeman, who must have known he had fallen on Doomadgee.
``It may be possible that the exact manner of a violent and complicated fall may not be remembered by one of the participants,'' Mr Hine reported.
``However, it seems improbable that he did not realise that he had fallen on to Mulrunji at all.
``The severe force required to cause the injuries spoken of by all the medical experts convinces me that Hurley must have realised that he had indeed fallen on to the deceased rather than directly on to a concrete floor.''
Mr Hine found, however, that an enraged Sergeant Hurley had punched Doomadgee three times in the face before dragging him into the cell in which he died from internal bleeding. At this point, the Aborigine was a ``dead weight'', the coroner reported.
``The deceased died of fatal injuries which resulted from some force to the abdomen . . . either as the deceased and Christopher Hurley fell into the Palm Island watchhouse or by deliberate actions of Hurley in the few seconds after they landed,'' Mr Hine found.
``But it is not possible to ascertain whether the force was deliberately inflicted or accidentally suffered. The four fractured ribs, liver laceration and portal vein rupture occurred as a result of this single injury.''
In addition to criticising the police investigation, Mr Hine questioned why the independent Crime and Misconduct Commission had not taken immediate charge of the death in custody investigation, and recommended that it should be resourced and empowered to do so in future.

2004 Nov 19: Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, dies in custody at Palm Island police station after being arrested for being drunk and causing a nuisance
Nov 26: Palm Islanders riot.
Police officers seek refuge at the island's hospital and are airlifted to safety. Rioters burn down the police station, courthouse and the home of officer-in-charge Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley
Feb 28: Coronial inquiry into Doomadgee's death begins Mar 4: State Coroner Michael Barnes stands down from the inquiry after claims of bias Mar 30: Second inquiry begins
Sep: Deputy Coroner Christine Clements finds Hurley responsible for Doomadgee's fatal injuries
Dec 14: Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare determines Hurley has no case to answer and the death was a tragic accident
Jan 26: Former NSW chief justice Laurence Street reviews case and advises there is enough evidence to prosecute Hurley, who is officially suspended
Feb 5: Hurley faces Supreme Court charged with manslaughter and assault
Jun 15: Hurley breaks silence, testifying in his own defence.
Says he has come to terms with the fact he caused the death but strongly denies any intention to cause harm
Jun 20: Jury acquits Hurley on manslaughter and assault charges
Nov 2: Doomadgee's widow Tracey Twaddle and his five sisters launch a $900,000 civil lawsuit against Hurley and Queensland police
Oct 9: Hurley launches an appeal in Townsville District Court to have the Deputy Coroner's findings overturned
Dec 18: District Court judge Bob Pack sets aside the Deputy Coroner's inquest findings, saying medical evidence did not support the ruling, and orders inquest reopened
Jun 16: Court of Appeal says Justice Pack is correct in ordering inquest be reopened, but says judge's reasoning in ordering findings be set aside is "flawed"
This year
Mar 8-9: The reopened inquest, before Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine, holds hearings on Palm Island
Mar 10-12: Inquest moves to Townsville; Hurley apologises to Doomadgee family but maintains he did not regret his actions on the day
Apr 8: Peter Davis SC, representing Queensland's Attorney-General, urges Hine to find Doomadgee's death was the result of a deliberate act of force
May 6: Media reports indicate a leaked copy of a CMC report into the actions of police investigating the death in custody will recommend disciplinary action against
seven officers
Hine delivers an open finding on Doomadgee's death