Aboriginal death sparked riots
compiled from various sources
published: 4WardEver UK – 10 August 2008
Updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
In November 2004 anger over a death in custody on Palm Island in North Queensland escalated into a full scale riot. It started with the death in custody of Cameron Doomadgee. Mr Doomadgee, also known as Mulrunji, was found dead in a cell of the police station after he was arrested for being drunk in public. He had suffered broken ribs and a ruptured liver and spleen.
His death and the lack of any arrests or charges, prompted serious disturbances on Queensland’s Palm Island, where an aboriginal settlement has been established since 1918. The disturbances led to the police station and court being burned to the ground. Authorities had considered whether to declare a state of emergency on Palm Island.
It was believed the Coroner’s report on the death was released to Mr Doomadgee’s family earlier in the day, and that may have triggered the violence.
In 2007 An Australian police officer, at the centre of the high-profile death in custody, was set to face manslaughter charges. The move was announced by Queensland’s attorney-general following a review of previous decisions in the case. Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley was accused by a coroner of causing the death of Cameron Doomadgee, 36, while he was in custody in 2004.
But the new decision that Sgt Hurley should face charges angered the police.
Mr Doomadgee’s lawyer, Andrew Boe, described the latest decision as a “landmark”. “This is the first time a criminal charge has followed a death in custody in Australia’s history,” he said. But the Queensland Police Union said its members were “furious” and were considering strike action.
Subsequently, courts found the police officer not guilty of the manslaughter and assault. Politicians called for calm following the verdict. “I would urge all those with an interest in the case to accept the decision of the court calmly,” Australia’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mal Brough said.
Aboriginal leaders reacted angrily to the verdict. One described it as shocking. The BBC’s Nick Bryant said “This has been one of the most highly charged and emotive cases in recent Australian legal history, It pitted the police against the Aboriginal community in Palm Island.”
It took the jury just over three hours to decide that Sergeant Chris Hurley was not guilty of either manslaughter or assault in connection with the death of Mr Doomadgee, also known as Mulrunji. The case had focused on the struggle at Palm Island police station in November 2004, during which the 36-year-old had his liver cleaved in two and suffered fatal internal bleeding.
Sgt Hurley admitted in court he was to blame for these injuries but argued they were caused accidentally after he tripped and fell on the victim. The prosecution put forward a quite different version of events, claiming the police officer knew what he was doing.
Murrandoo Yanner, an activist for Black rights and a cousin of Cameron Doomadgee, was quoted saying: “I don’t condone violence, but Black fellows are sick of violence being perpetrated against them by police and it all gets swept under the carpet.”
No justice a decade on from horrific Palm Island death in custody
19 February 2014
Doomadgee family: `inquiry will be a whitewash’
9 February 2005
Hundreds attend Doomadgee’s funeral
11 December 2004
CMC investigates Cameron Doomadgee’s death in custody
3 December 2004
Police commissioner defends Palm Island response
30 November 2004