Palm Island – 2nd Inquest re the death of Cameron Doomadgee, referred to as Mulrunji at his family’s request
11th March 2010 Townsville District Court - Day 4
These are my impressions from talking with various community members and sitting, listening and watching, in the Court room – I cannot always catch what is said.
Wednesday afternoon – 10th March
Sgt Leafe was in the police garage with Roy Bramwell when Hurley arrived with Mulrunji, PLO Bengaroo, Mulrunji and Patrick Nugent. Leafe had just asked Roy to come to the police station as Sgt Hurley wanted to speak with him about alleged serious assaults on three women on Thursday night/Friday morning.
Mr Devlin took Leafe his first statement of his movements from Hurley’s arrival in garage until it was established that Mulrunji had died in the cell.
It appeared that Leafe was busy opening doors and the cell, organising Roy to sit on the yellow chair (see the evidence on Days 1 and 2) and then eventually arriving at the corridor where Mulrunji lay on his back on the floor and Hurley was trying to pick him up by his shirt. Then Leafe and Hurley took a wrist each and dragged Mulrunji down the corridor to the cell where they placed him. Leafe had only been away about 10 seconds, yet in that time Mulrunji had stopped struggling with Hurley and was not moving. Leafe said Mulrunji felt like a dead-weight.
Mr Devlin: did you ask Hurley what had happened? NO,
Mulrunji was motionless and supine. You did not think there might be a problem? NO. Then the surveillance camera was switched on, Hurley told Roy to leave and Leafe settled down to deal with correspondence.
Mr Devlin asked Leafe if he had seen the tape of the cell and of Mulrunji lying writhing on the floor and heard the six cries for help in the first ten minutes of the tape. Leafe said he had on the day after the death.
Mr Devlin asked Leafe how he could have not heard the six cries for help. Leafe said he did not know but he did not hear them.
Once Leafe discovered that Mulrunji had no pulse, the ambulance was called and ambulance staff pronounced Mulrunji dead and took the body to the hospital. Leafe then settled down to normal everyday business.
Mr Devlin asked if Leafe and Hurley discussed what could have happened. Leafe said they did and that Hurley said he had landed beside Mulrunji so Leafe accepted this as fact.
Thursday morning –11th March
After further cross-examination of Leafe’s various statements, Mr Devlin asked Leafe why he had never mentioned to the CMC on 8th December, that Steadman had written notes on19th November.
Then Mr Devlin summarised Leafe’s position. He had been in a small police station during a death in custody, walking backwards and forwards through the areas involved but he had seen nothing, and heard nothing whilst Mulrunji was in the police station. Mr Devlin seemed to find this astonishing.
Mr Boe then took Leafe through the day of the incident again. His first action after the death was to phone his wife and to say ‘stay in the compound’, because he was frightened of community reactions. Then it was to phone Townsville superiors. The idea of securing the crime scene from the cell through the corridors and doors to the police vehicle did not occur to him (nor to Hurley) although he agreed that this is standard procedure on a suspicious death.
Mr Davis cross-examined Leafe re the basis of his certainty that Hurley had fallen to the side of Mulrunji. Leafe kept repeating that it was his belief that Hurley had nothing to worry about re the death as Hurley had fallen to the side of Mulrunji. However, Leafe had consistently and clearly stated that he did not see the fall so his only basis for the statement is that he believes it because Hurley told him so.
Leafe agreed that he had helped the Defence team of Sgt Hurley with some more precise information abut the length of time he was away dropping it from 10 seconds to about 6-7 seconds and that he had not volunteered that revised estimate to the Prosecuting team. He agreed that as a sworn police officer it is his duty to support the Crown’s prosecution case, not to support the defence.
In spite of all this Leafe stated that his belief in Hurley’s innocence did not affect the impartiality of his evidence. Mr Davis actually suggested that Leafe’s belief in Hurley’s innocence could have lead him to want to subvert the Crown’s case. Leafe denied it.
I am fairly sure that I heard this correctly. It was extraordinary. It made me wonder how to keep an organisation honest and true to its mission if its members put loyalty to fellow-members as a top priority.
PLO Lloyd Bengaroo was called as a witness. Mr Devlin asked Bengaroo about life as a PLO. Begaroo seems to feel PLOs are in a difficult position. They are not police and cannot make arrests but they can be blamed and picked on by the community. . He said that he deliberately did not look into the station as he feared he might be harassed if he saw anything wrong happen.
Bengaroo’s original evidence about the events leading to Mulrunji’s death were very similar to Hurley’s evidence, that is that Mulrunji fell on his back and Hurley fell beside, but not on him.. However, Bengaroo did use these words about Mulrunji after the fall, ‘he was flopping down’. Today he explained this as meaning that Mulrunji was trying to get himself free from Hurley.
In his re-enactment on 20th November 04, Bengaroo says ‘he flopped against the floor, Chris fell on him’.
Note: whilst Bengaroo was doing his re-enactment I noticed two people walking past in the background. This is important because Hurley was asked whether he knew about what Bengaroo said/did in it and Hurley said that all the potential witnesses were asked to keep apart – but some people were certainly walking past.
I felt sorry for Bengaroo. He had difficulty understanding the rather formal and wordy questions he was asked and he looked so alone.
After lunch, Sn Sgt Hurley was called. It was mentioned that his wife had just had a baby and that they would try to get his cross-examination done in time for him to fly home Friday arvo. I heard someone mutter ‘they weren’t so worried about our family’.
Mr Devlin went through Hurley’s first statement of the events when Hurley arrived at the station with Mulrunji and Patrick Nugent. Hurley was trying to get Mulrunji out of the wagon and he was resisting. He hit Hurley with a back-hander on the jaw. They continued to ‘tussle’ outside the wagon towards the entrance of the station, through the standard size door and fell on the floor Hurley to the left of Mulrunji and to the side of him.
Mulrunji was not moving. Leafe came back from opening doors and Mulrunji was still not moving so they took a wrist each and dragged him backwards along the corridor to the cells where they placed him. Mulrunji was still not moving: Hurley added today, he seemed very sleepy. Then Patrick Nugent was escorted to the cell and placed there. He was very drunk.
Hurley turned on the surveillance cameras, spoke to Roy Bramwell and sent him home, then settled to normal police work.
The tape was played showing Mulrunji writhing on the floor and six muffled calls were heard within 30 seconds. Hurley states that he did not hear them although he normally hears calls from the cells. He stated that if he had heard the calls he waould have gone to the cell. He did see the movement but thought it was natural movement during a drunken sleep. Hurley said he was concerned about Patrick who had not moved at all.
Hurley repeated several times that he thought that Mulrunji was very sleepy after the fall and did not speak so that Hurley assumed he was in a drunken sleep. His movements in the cell suggested that he was alright because he was moving around.
Mr Devlin asked why in Hurley’s re-enactment, Hurley had added two details which seemed to take in two items of Roy Bramwell’s re-enactment. 1) that he was trying to pull Mulrunji up by his shirt but the shirt kept tearing and 2) he was saying ‘Get up Mr Doomadgee’. Mr Devlin asked if Hurley had seen Roy’s re-enactment or been told by someone what was in it. Hurley said NO.
Mr Devlin also asked why Mulrunji was arrested. Hurley said it was for his abusive language and mouthing off, originally to PLO Bengaroo and then afterwards walking down the street, Mulrunji was mouthing off and swearing. He was charged with ‘Public Nuisance’. Mulrunji had never been arrested on Palm and Hurley did not know him or his name.
Maybe this is a clue to the high imprisonment rate of Aboriginal people. Mulrunji was walking down the street, swearing yes, but not menacing anyone and Hurley pulled up the car to arrest him. Mulrunji was loudly protesting his innocence when the wagon pulled up at the police station. He did not feel that he had committed a crime. Until, of course, he hit Hurley as he was pulled from the wagon. Apparently that was unheard of on Palm for someone to hit a police officer and Hurley was very taken aback.
Mr Devlin asked if Hurley, as Officer in Charge, had secured the crime scene. Hurley said yes, the cell was locked. Mr Devlin said the entire area from the wagon through the police station to the cells was a crime scene and should have been secured. Hurley agreed that it should have been done. It wasn’t.
Mr Devlin wondered why Roy Bramwell, brought in because of alleged serious assault on three women, and having also had a drunken fight that morning, still drunk, was told to leave the station, very soon after Mulrunji was put in the cells. Hurley said Roy was too drunk to interview and had a known address.
More cross-examination tomorrow. They think they will finish interviewing Hurley and then will interview Detective Sgt Darren Robinson, who has appeared a great deal in the previous inquest especially re other interactions of Hurley with community people.
Robinson was the detective who was charged with conducting investigations into three incidents. He also was one of the main witnesses against Lance Pointer, William Blackman, John Clumpoint and Dwayne Blanket all accused of a very serious offence; conspiracy to riot. I’m not sure of the correct name but it is a rarely used charge with very onerous penalties. The four men were declared not guilty by a jury
in Brisbane in March 2007.
As David Allen used to say ‘ If you have been, thank you for listening’. My thoughts entirely,