Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was acquitted over the manslaughter of Mulrunji Doomadgee.
QUEENSLAND: The Queensland government will pay the legal costs of police officers in proceedings that arose from the death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee.
The state government will reimburse the Queensland Police Union for the defence of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, who was acquitted of Doomadgee’s manslaughter.
It will also cover the costs of other officers who appeared at a coronial inquiry.
The total cost to the taxpayer will be $600,000, media reports say.
Doomadgee, who was arrested for being drunk, died on the floor of the Palm Island watchhouse in November 2004. The incident sparked riots on the island.
He suffered severe internal injuries after a scuffle with his arresting officer, Sergeant Hurley, who has returned to work in the police force after being acquitted of manslaughter.
In a third inquest, Coroner Brian Hine found there was evidence other police had colluded to protect Sergeant Hurley, and the Crime and Misconduct Commission also found flaws in the way police investigated him.
The state government’s decision has been condemned as obscene by lawyer Andrew Boe, who has represented the Doomadgee family in the past.
North Queensland indigenous activist Professor Gracelyn Smallwood said it would open up “terrible wounds and scars” for the Palm Island community.
“For this government to pay $600,000 towards all costs incurred by the Queensland police is totally unacceptable and it’s like we’re back in the 60s in the deep south of America,” she told ABC Radio.
Mr Boe, who represented the Doomadgee family at the last inquest, told the ABC it was a “perverse and obscene” decision given the findings of Coroner Hine.
In 2010, Mr Hine said he could not definitively say if the injuries that killed Doomadgee were deliberately or accidentally inflicted in the scuffle with Sergeant Hurley.
But he said there was evidence that other police had colluded to protect him.
Mr Hine recommended new rules to deal with police collusion and to stop a single law firm acting for all police officers implicated in such cases, Mr Boe said.
“How – in light of these findings by a judicial officer – the state government could justify the payment of their legal fees is beyond me,” Mr Boe said.
“It is absolutely obscene to think that police officers have a special relationship with government when involved in matters of this kind.”
He said Mr Hine was ultimately unable to make a finding about Doomadgee’s cause of death “because of the way police conducted themselves” in their investigations, the trial and coronial inquests.
“The police officers who could have given evidence as to what occurred refused to confer with the crown prosecutor, who was prosecuting Hurley,” Mr Boe said.
“That is something that has not ever occurred in the prosecution of crime in this state other than when police are involved.”
Mr Boe said there was a “very high level of disquiet” about the way police had conducted themselves in the Doomadgee case.
“This decision to compensate them is really rewarding them for maintaining their culture, which has been the subject of considerable investigation and criticism by the finest legal minds in the state’s history.”
Palm Island mayor Alf Lacey said the community would consider the decision racist.
“It goes to show if you’re black in this state you get nothing, and if you’re white you’ll get the bank vault,” he told ABC Radio.
“People are going to be disappointed for me making it a black-and-white issue, but unfortunately I have to make it such. If this is not racism, then what is it?”
Police Minister Jack Dempsey said the government was obliged to meet the officers legal costs because they were not convicted of any offence and were carrying out out their duties as public servants.
A statement from the minister’s office said the state government approved a $280,225 payment to the police union for Sergeant Hurley’s defence, after he was acquitted of manslaughter.
The payment was approved on the recommendation of the Queensland Police Service Commissioner.
Another payment of $384,700, for the legal costs of officers and staff involved in the coroner’s inquest, was also approved, the statement said.