Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Police officers face disciplinary action over botched probe into death in custody of aborigine

TOP Queensland police have been accused of protecting their own while investigating the Mulrunji death in custody. A soon-to-be released Crime and Misconduct Commission report is understood to name at least nine serving officers and recommends at least seven face official misconduct charges and disciplinary action over the police handling of the 2004 Palm Island death.

The report claims the people of Palm Island, the wider indigenous community and the ``public generally'' have been let down. And it is set to be particularly critical of the apparent failure of investigating officers to be seen as impartial.

The CMC is understood to have found the investigation into the death of Doomadgee, also known as Mulrunji, was seriously flawed and its integrity gravely compromised in the eyes of the community.

Mulrunji was found dead in a cell less than an hour after his arrest and a scuffle in Palm Island watchhouse on November 19, 2004. Sen-Sgt Chris Hurley was tried and acquitted of the manslaughter of Mulrunji in 2007, admitting that his knee may have come into contact with Mulrunji's stomach in a complicated fall.

The death infamously sparked riots on the island three days later when the police station was burnt to the ground.

The long-awaited report, which explores the initial police investigation and subsequent internal investigation, is due to be released next week after Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine hands down the findings of a third coronial inquiry into Doomadgee's death. It has accused the Ethical Standards Command officers of running a biased investigation to protect other police.

It is alleged that witnesses were guided in their answers in interviews, with some provided in advance with copies of the questions they were to be asked.

A further allegation is that some key witnesses were not even interviewed by the officers, privately described by Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson as among his "most respected".

The Queensland Police Commissioned Officers Union is considering legal action to stop publication of the report.

The report is set to attack police "double standards'' and the apparent culture of officers protecting other police. Mr Atkinson will be urged to act immediately to restore public trust in the police service opening the way for a royal commission.

It is understood the harshest criticism is reserved for officers who headed the investigation into police. It is expected to suggest high-ranking officers escape criminal charges but be fined, demoted, or dismissed.

The CMC believes officers protected other police from blame. Four officers are believed to be facing disciplinary action for official misconduct over the initial Palm Island investigation. Three other senior officers are slated for management action. Another two officers are likely to face disciplinary action for negligence in failing to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation of the initial QPS investigation.

A CMC spokeswoman said the QPS had had until April 30 to provide feedback to the draft report under the procedural fairness process.

She said all relevant affected parties had provided feedback, and the final report was expected to be publicly released within the next month.