Another black death in police custody

Australian racism in practice: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 indigenous man 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. He had been arrested an hour beforehand. 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 the Leanne Clare, the state’s director of Public Prosecution for consideration as to whether charges will be laid.

What the media labelled 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.

‘It is a terrible tragedy that such a minor incident could lead to a man’s death in custody. Mulrunji cried out for help from the cell after being fatally injured, and no help came. The images from the cell videotape of Mulrunji, writhing in pain as he lay dying on the cell floor, were shocking and terribly distressing to anyone who sat through that portion of the evidence. The sounds from the cell surveillance tape are unlikely to be forgotten by anyone who was in court and heard the tape played … ‘

You can read Office of State Coroners report on Mulrunjie’s death in police custody here[Word doc].

In 2005, an indigenous Australian is 11 times more likely to be in prison than a non-Indigenous Australian, and in 2003, 20% of prisoners in Australia were Indigenous, and 10 of the 39 deaths that occurred in prison custody (26%) were Indigenous.(Source: ABS). The number of indigenous deaths in custody may have been higher in the past. Several examples of these deaths are listed by John Pilger in his book “A Secret Country.”

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