Aboriginals in Queensland: Singing one day, bashed to death by police the next
Friday September 29th 2006, 10:27 am

Queensland Police Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley (image: ABC TV)At 11:20am on 19 November 2004, a 36 year old Palm Island Aboriginal man died in the custody of Queensland Police. Only an hour before, the man had been very much alive, walking about and singing.

Known after death per Aboriginal custom as ‘Mulrunji,’ the man had been arrested for swearing at police, purportedly while he was intoxicated, and was taken to the Palm Island police watchhouse.

Witnesses who were being held in the watchhouse at the time said Mulrunji cried out for help while they observed him being savagely bashed by Queensland Police Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley.

The first autopsy of Mulrunji was conducted on 23 November 2004 at Cairns Base Hospital by Dr. Guy Lampe. Dr Lampe’s report concluded that Mulrunji died due to an impact to his chest region, causing four broken ribs and severe injury to his liver. Dr Lampe claimed that Mulrunji’s fatal injuries were caused by a fall on the concrete steps leading into the watchhouse.

Dr Lampe’s ‘police friendly’ coroner’s report, released on 26 November 2004, sparked rioting among the residents on Palm Island. Outraged community members burned the police watchhouse, court house and police residences to the ground, forcing police to be evacuated from the island. Queensland Premier Peter Beatty had more than 100 police reinforcements flown to Palm Island to restore order.

Due to public outrage on and off Palm Island, the case was taken up by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC), which ordered a second autopsy of Mulrunji, performed in Brisbane on 30 November 2004 by Associate Professor David Ranson. Professor Anthony Ansford and Dr Byron Collins were also in attendance, together with Dr Lampe.

Professor Ranson concluded that a mere fall onto a concrete surface could not have caused the injuries which killed Mulrunji. In his findings, Ranson writes:

In my opinion the death occurred from blood loss as a result of the liver being torn. I believe the liver injury was the result of forceful pressure being applied to the front of the upper abdomen or stomach area. This force squeezed the liver by pushing it up against the front of the spine so that it was nearly split in half.


A complicated fall where the two individuals fall together from a standing position would not usually cause the liver laceration seen in this man unless during the process of the fall a small area of direct crushing pressure was applied to the front of the upper abdomen with the back or posterior lateral aspect of the body fixed against a hard


If a large person were to fall in an accelerated or uncontrolled fashion on top of an individual who was lying on their back on the ground, such that a small part of their body, for example a knee applied a crushing type force to the upper abdomen, it is possible that such a liver laceration might be caused.

Acting Queensland State Coroner Christine Clements has now ruled that Mulrunji did not die of a fall as first claimed by Dr Lampe. Clements found that Mulrunji died as a result of powerful blows to his midsection, adminstered by Sen Sgt. Hurley’s fists or knees. Clements’ ruling states that Hurley had lost his temper after Mulrunji had struck him in the jaw and had then struck the Aboriginal man while they both were on the floor of the police watchhouse.

Clements further finds that Mulrunji should never have been arrested. (ABC Podcast, MP3)

Despite clear cause to investigate possible excessive use of force by police, Queensland Police Union President Gary Wilkinson claims that the pursuit of Hurley is a “witch hunt“:

“Senior Sergeant Hurley has been hung out to dry by [Clements],” [Wilkinson] said.

“He’s done nothing wrong and he has the full support of the union. Every police officer involved in this inquest has the full support of the union.

“She has conducted a witch-hunt from the start that’s been designed to pander to the residents of Palm Island, rather than establishing the facts.”

Mr Wilkinson says he is dumbfounded by the findings.

“Clearly she approached this inquest as a foregone conclusion, despite the mountain of evidence in support of Chris Hurley that she deliberately overlooked,” he said.

“She’s used unreliable evidence from a drunk to support these claims. It’s simply unbelievable.

“Hopefully the see through this rubbish, throw it out, throw in the bin where it belongs.”

Sen Sgt Hurley remained on regular duties with full pay during the nearly two years that this matter has been under investigation. It took a full day of public pressure on Queensland Police and the Beatty Government after Clements released her findings which directly implicate Sen Sgt Hurley in the death of Mulrunji for the officer to be suspended from enforcement duties.

The flippant attitude of Queensland Police Minister Judy Spence (ABC Podcast, MP3) in terms of her acceptance of Acting Coroner Clements’ findings and the initial refusal to suspend Sen Sgt Hurley by Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson leave me with little faith that there are paradigm shifts imminent within the Queensland Police Service regarding treatment of Aboriginals in custody.

Sen Sgt Hurley remains working for Queensland Police on full pay, simply having been shifted to a plainclothes desk job on the Gold Coast. Both Queensland Premier Peter Beatty and Police Commisioner Bob Atkinson have defended the retention of Hurley on administrative duties as Hurley has yet to be charged in the matter.

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the Queensland Police Service into the 21st century.


8 Comments so far
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Welcome to the Redneck State!

I wonder what it takes for one of the police unions to not try to defend the indefensible committed by one of their members. It seems to be just a mantra trotted out every time one is accused of something “he didn’t do it, he is being set up. its everyone else’s fault but his”.

Comment by Living in Canberra 10.01.06 @ 11:18 am

Did you notice that the report was released the day before National Police Day, which happened to be given prominent coverage in QLD. So while we (and Palm Islanders) were outraged by Police brutality one day, we were expected to mourn the fallen police deaths in the course of their duty, the next day!

… and for the Qld Government to justify officer Hurley being protected from criticism and Minister Spence criticising some of the findings, while not even offering an apology to Palm Islanders about the adverse findings, seems blatantly racist.

Comment by Kylie 10.02.06 @ 4:03 pm

I am doing a report on ploice brutality toward indiginous peoples, and have researched events similar to this. I began on the indiginous people’s side and am going to include that police do use excessive force when dealing with said indiginous persons. But the more I researched the more I have found that it is implied altercation that takes place between aboriginal people and police is because the person involved was aboriginal. I am still writing against the police but it seems to me that police can arrest with unnecessary force a drunk on the Gold Coast who is swearing and the police, and receive little or no opposition, but if he does the same to an indiginous person it becomes a major issue and is said to be a case of racial prejudice.

Comment by daniel 09.17.07 @ 9:27 am

I’ve been doing a fair bit of research on cases like this and the outcry that follows, and it seems to me that there is alot of crying wolf happening. I am on the Palm Islander’s side on this because the man died due to a police bashing that shouldn’t have happened. But it seems to me that a drunk of european descent who was swearing at the police can be arrested with excessive force by the police and receive little or no opposition or outcry, but if the swearing drunk was an aborignial, than immediately it is said to be a case of racial prejudice and this stokes the community up for even more events like this where someonhe will fill themselves with liquor and then shout at the police all the things that he hates about them. Excessive force should not have been used, but the same thing would have happened to a person of European origin, only with much less outcry, anger and calls of ‘racial prejudice’.

Comment by Daniel 09.17.07 @ 9:38 am

Daniel, thanks for dropping in. First time commenters must be manually approved by me, which is why your first attempt at commenting did not appear immediately.

If an Anglo man had been arrested for public intox and then killed by the arresting officer with a knee-drop which ripped the suspect’s liver in half against his spine, then the cop lied about the cause of the injuries (eg ‘falling on watchhouse stairs’, remember?) you better believe there would have been a public outcry.

If the aforementioned case involved an Anglo cop and an Anglo suspect, OF COURSE there would be no cause to claim police racial prejudice… but a case brought against the cop for the use of excessive force resulting in death probably would have reached a conviction. Remember, cops can’t kill Anglo Aussies in custody with impunity- just Aborigines.

Comment by weez 09.17.07 @ 1:21 pm

I sencerly believe that the police in there duty don’t understand that killing a person is stil murder even if it don’t go to court . also there is asaying if it get to hot in the kitchen get out. I know for sure that evry devence forge person who is send to war exspect to be shot back at them if they shoot the enemy.If they don’t like it go home and don’t come back End off story

Comment by Frank 03.23.08 @ 11:20 pm

<This isn’t the landing of Cpt. Cook and Kill the blacks.This is the law of the police union.Can you bastards sleep at night.Maybe one day your kids will know what you did to another mothers child.You will answer every night you lay to sleep,you lying public servants.

Comment by terry nilsson 07.08.10 @ 11:12 pm

You got away with being charged.You only killed (killed) a human.Big deal…just a cheeky black fella…..half your size and you took his life in the most brutal way that only the police force thinks it’s a fair deal.Forget the police force and take a long long look at yourself …….you killed another man who was no threat to you or the society , black,white or brindle you took his life……do you ever think about how his family feels.What if you SGT. Hurley was killed by someone twice your size in a blue…….would your family sit down and say (bad luck) ….wake up hurley you killed him and you and only you will carry the stigma for your whole life. Rights right and wrongs wrong……You were very wrong beating a man to death….live with it cowboy.

Comment by STICK 04.03.12 @ 8:31 pm

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