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Program Information
Palm Island death in custody
Sam Watson
 Ratbag Radio Network  Contact Contributor
The Murunji case and its consequences were addressed by Murri activist and Socialist Alliance electoral candidate, Sam Watson, at a Alliance meeting in Brisbane on October 4th.
Dave Riley (producer)
Queensland's deputy state coroner, Christine Clements in a damning report has criticized the initial investigation into the 2004 Palm Island death in custody of Mulrunji saying that it failed to meet appropriate guidelines. Clements also found that Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley caused Mulrunji�s death, and accused the police of failing to investigate his death fully. Mulrunji, 36, was found dead on the cement floor of his cell about 11am on November 19, 2004. Since the report has been handed down there has been a campaign by the Queensland Police Union, the Police Commissioner and the state government minister to disparage the report�s findings and recommendations. Clement�s conclusions have now gone before Leanne Clare, the state�s director of Public Prosecution for consideration as to whether charges will be laid.

What the media labeled as a � riot� erupted on the island on November 26, 2004 after the results of the inquest in to the death were revealed to the local aboriginal community. During this event the local police station and some other government buildings were burned to the ground. The Queensland Police Service flew in approximately 80 additional police officers to restore order.

The case and its consequences were addressed by Murri activist and Socialist Alliance electoral candidate, Sam Watson, cat a Alliance meeting on October 4th.
[This is a rushed transcript]

Palm Island in 2004 was a typical remote Murri community with enormous social problems as well as lack of access to proper institutions and the engines that drive the white community. Unemployment has always been around the 90 to 95 percent rate; housing is appalling -- every house on the island is run down, very little maintenance, over crowded -- access to schooling , access to health care is just an appalling place in way of infrastructure.

On this Saturday morning our brother Mulrunjie --and we use his tribal name pursuant to the express wishes of his family -- Mulrunjie was walking home -- he had just done his crab pots. Heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½d had a bit of a charge but he wasnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t intoxicated.

There were two coppers out and about because of some domestic situation. A aboriginal copper by the name of Lloyd Bengaroo and this senior sergeant Chris Hurley were in this house attending to this domestic situation. Mulrunjie apparently made some comment to the black liason officer to the effect of why are you hassling other aboriginal people. He wasnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t violent. He wasnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t stand overish. He was only 5âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ 9âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ or 5âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ 10âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ --an easy going bloke . None of the coppers on the island knew him because he not been arrested and had no history of being in the lockup or causing any problems so he just kept walking.

But Hurley took affront at that and asked Banga what he said. Hurley then pursued Mulrunjie .

Thereâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s a situation at the point of arrest and independent witnesses attest to the fact that Hurley used an enormous amount of force to subdue Mulrunjie and throw him into the back of the police van.

Mulrunjie was then transported to the watch house. Again we have black witnesses and police witnesses. The aboriginal witnesses gave quite strong evidence about the degree of force that Hurley used to remove Mulrunjie from the back of the police wagon, on to the steps and into the watch house.

At one point Mulrunjie was knocked to the ground and Hurley stood over him and applied quite a number of full body blows to Mulrunjie . Hurley is a rather large bloke, over 6 feet tall and weighing about 23/26 stone and well used to dishing out corporal punishment because he has had a lengthy background of policing in remote aboriginal communities. There have been a number of situations where it is alleged that he assaulted aboriginal people but nothing has been taken through to a conclusion.
He has had quite a background in using aboriginal force in subduing aboriginal people.

This assault on Mulrunjie went on for some time and Mulrunjie was then dragged into the cell and thrown onto the cell floor. He wasnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t put on the bed. His condition wasnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t checked. And then he was looked at at every 30 or 35 minutes . The young police officer who was in the watch house at the time went in about 45 minutes after this and came back out and said âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½weâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ve got trouble., Heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s very cold, heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s clammy--heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s not breathing. Something bad has happened.âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½

So Hurley runs in and they both stand over Mulrunjie . They knew that Mulrunjie was in severe physical distress and needed assistance but both of them admitted to the first inquest that neither one of them had had any training or background in resuscitation --even when they knew this man was on the floor gasping for life.

They called the ambulance. The ambulance took 13 minutes to get there. The ambulance officers came in with the cardiac resuscitation equipment but said that there was no use attempting resuscitation because Mulrunjie was dead.

The family came up when they saw the ambulance come to the police station and they were sent away. The coppers said everything was OK.

Then the police rang Townsville for guidance. They were told to lock the situation down so they locked it down and denied access to any other person and cooked up their stories about what had happened.

The story is that these injuries that Mulrunjie had died from were caused by him stumbling on the front steps of the police watch house. That was it. No assault ever happened. Chris Hurley had not laid a finger on him. Because he was drunk, heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½d fallen on the steps of the watch house and thatâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s what caused his injuries. They locked themselves into that.

Two senior officers from Townsville came over that night on the plane. Hurley picked them up at the airport , drove them around, showed them the point of arrest , showed them the watch house then they went for a beer and a feed at Hurleysâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ place. So there was no distance between Hurley and the investigating police even though a death in custody had occurred and even though they were supposed to immediately shift into the protocols laid down by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths a in Custody and the protocols laid down by the (Queensland)Crime and Misconduct Commission. Neither of these were observed and most of the time these two officers were on the island, they spent it in Hurleyâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s company.

In the meantime the family and the Palm community had found out that Mulrunjie was dead . There was confusion and a lot of hurt . The body was taken to the hospital and placed in the morgue.

The chief medical officer from Townsville came over and undertook an autopsy.

Six days later that autopsy report was released. It revealed that Mulrunjie had suffered massive trauma to the abdomen. He had four broken ribs , a burst spleen and his liver had been severed in two and was held together only by the portal vein. The forensic pathologist said that it would have taken an enormous amount of force to have cause those injuries.

So thereâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s no mystery as to why he died so quickly.

The community found out very quickly about what had happened. and they reacted.

[This was the genesis of the so called âï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½riotâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½ --DR]

The police station was burnt down. from the evidence that came forward the police themselves were responsible for the burning down of the police station because as the fire in the station started in the very room where Chris Hurleyâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s clothing along with Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s clothing had been stored. So the police were very smart in the way they destroyed the DNA evidence.

There are a number of witnesses who attested to the fact that there was no aboriginal person in the vicinity of the place where the fire started and the only people who were there sufficient to start the fire were the coppers themselves.

The coppers were evacuated and then you had the crack public order squad came out with weapons to subdue the rampaging natives . They just went berserk trough the community. They terrorized people. They identified the main leaders and put them under lock and key... . This went on for days and those coppers are still essentially still over there on Palm.

The family and the community then went through a period where they had to attend to Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s remains but they requested a second autopsy and the second confirmed the findings of the first. Then the body was finally handed over to the family to be buried. At that time Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s mother, an older lady who was ill from other sicknesses -- because of the trauma she had been through -- she also passed away. And then only five weeks ago Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s only child -- a young fella only 17 years old, so traumatize and so despairing of ever achieving justice for his father , committed suicide on Palm. Three generations of the one family have now been buried because of this copperâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s violent murderous assault.

Hurley was transferred away from the island to Surfers Paradise which is the plum police posting in Australia. He was also given a rise in rank and a rise in pay.

The first inquiry was closed down (after an appeal by the Police Union)without handing down any findings. So the deputy coroner Christine Clements launched the second inquiry. That inquest handed down its findings last week comprising 40 findings and recommendations.

She found that Mulrunjie had died in the police watch house from substantial injuries and these injuries were sustained from an assault by Chris Hurley. That Hurley had bashed Mulrunjie to death .These findings now go to the Directror of Public Prosecutions, Lenne Clair, and she is weighing up the evidence and she will hand down her finding over the next few weeks as to whether she can sustain a criminal inditement...

The Police union has always attempted to stage manage the entire process from Day One . They tried to intimidate the aboriginal witnesses but the aboriginal witnesses stayed on point right the way through -- from the aborted first inquiry to the Clementâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s inquiry. They refused to be shaken by the battery of top ranking police lawyers. They knew what they had seen; they knew what they had heard. And they knew what had happened on that day back in 2004. ...

There needs to be pressure maintained on the Beattie government. Even when the findings came down the police commissioner and the police minister refused to suspend Hurley or sack him. They merely moved him from active duty to desk duty.

This is a thug who has murdered an innocent man. The glaring fact that had emerged from the Clementâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s inquiry is that Mulrunjie had committed no crime. There was no reason at all why he should have be detained or arrested or taken to the watch house. Heâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½d done nothing wrong.

The coppers on Palm were questioned at length during both inquiries into what knowledge they had into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. They said time after time that they werenâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t aware of the Royal Commission. They didnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t know how it worked and they didnâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t know what the recommendations stated. This is bullshit because the video surveillance equipment in the Palm Island watch house was paid for by money from the Commission -- But that video surveillance equipment was turned off at the point where Mulrunjie enters the watch house and only resumes at the point where Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s body is on the floor.

When that video was played in the last days of the inquiry this family had to deal with seeing their beloved dieing on the screen.

No copper has come forward and owned up to turning off that camera during the time that Mulrunjie was assaulted by Hurley..If anything the 139 recommendations of the Commission has shown the police how to avoid prosecution and how to carry out their murderous activities upon aboriginal people.

The aboriginal community here in Brisbane in in daily contact with the mob on Palm. I have blood relatives on Palm. Weâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½re determined to up the stakes ....

Pressure needs to be maintained on the Beattie government to identify the crimes of Hurley and remove him from the public purse.. Hurley should be immediately sacked. We donâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t want this thug wearing the police uniform and being in a position where he can murder someone else. Until his fate is decided by the DPP then he should not be in a place where he can cause any other harm to any other member of the Queensland community.

We also believe that the Qeunnsland government owes the Palm Island community an enormous amount. The unemployment level on Palm is still 95 %. Housing is still appalling. education, access to health is still Fourth World. Beattie needs to be confronted and held accountable in the same way we are hgoing to hold Hurlkey accountable for what he has done to Mulrunjie . This government needs to be held accountable for the way they have consistently under funded and under resourced aboriginal communities like Palm Island. Palm Island people canâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½t do it by themselves They will need to network with communities like ours here in Brisbane. Those people need our support and the Brisbane Murri community will certainly give them that.

We will see this through. Time after time we have gone into inquiries and the system has conspired against us to essentially deliver no outcomes . But in this case there is enough evidence there for a court to make a criminal finding against the police officer responsible for this killing.

We are going to do some serious political business over the next period--whatever it takes --and weâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½re looking to other groups across our community, other working class comrades, to stand with us and march with us. and to do whatever it takes to have this piece of trash stripped of his rank and uniform , put on the unemployment line , and charged.

Weâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½re also going to demand that any preliminary hearings take place where the crime happened and thatâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s on Palm Island. The Police Union have been sprouting on a number of platforms over a number of years about the right of people to be tried by their peer group. So Chris Hurley should be tried by his peer group on Palm Island. He should be tried by aboriginal jurors . This system of justice is supposed to function that way so let be it be like that. Let Chris Hurley face his day of judgement before the Palm Island community.

You can read Office of State Coroners report on Mulrunjieâï¿Â½Ã¯Ã‚¿Ã‚½s death in police custody here:

Palm Island death in custody Download Program Podcast
00:26:00 1 Oct. 4, 2006
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