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Qld police racist in Palm Island response

AAP logoAAP 4/12/2016 By Rebekah Ison

The actions of balaclava-clad police officers who burst into Palm Island homes and held guns to the heads of Aboriginal children 12 years ago was racist, a judge has ruled.

The police were reacting to a riot sparked by the death in custody of Cameron "Mulrunji" Doomadgee on the local watch-house floor and the violence that erupted a week later in November 2004.

Justice Debbie Mortimer on Monday slammed the actions of key police when she awarded $220,000 damages to once-jailed rioter Lex Wotton and two of his family members.

Mr Wotton brought a class action on behalf of community members for the pain endured in early-morning raids involving Special Emergency Response Team (SERT) officers in November 2004.

"I have found they (the police) conducted themselves ... with a sense of impunity, impervious to the reactions of Palm Islanders," the Federal Court judge said in a written summary.

"I have found that police acted in these ways because they were dealing with an Aboriginal community."

The groundbreaking racial discrimination case alleged that police failures after the death of Mr Doomadgee wouldn't have happened in a community that wasn't isolated and predominantly Aboriginal.

Among the findings were that police officers treated Mr Doomadgee's arresting officer Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley inappropriately and failed to communicate with islanders in the tense week after the local man's death.

Justice Mortimer said accounts from Aboriginal witnesses implicating Sen Sgt Hurley in the tragedy were discounted, and that the use of SERT officers for post-riot raids was "unnecessary, disproportionate and undertaken as a show of force against local people who had protested about the conduct of police".

The Queensland Police Union rejected the findings, with president Ian Leavers saying the response would have been the same if the situation happened in "downtown Brisbane".

"I personally know many police who served and continue to serve on both Palm Island at that time and in Indigenous communities and I know they are not racist," he said.

The riot took place after a preliminary autopsy found Mr Doomadgee's death was an accident, despite him having four broken ribs and his liver almost cleaved in two.

The police station and barracks, as well as Sen Sgt Hurley's home, were razed during the riot.

The case previously heard between 88 and 111 officers marched through the community of fewer than 2000 residents, before guns were pointed at crying children during early-morning post-riot raids.

Mr Wotton was tasered, allegedly without warning, in front of his children.

"Women and children in and around the houses attended by SERT officers, who had nothing to do with the protests and fires, were terrified," Justice Mortimer said.

"Those women and children who gave evidence have suffered a lasting detrimental impact from the SERT operation."

The State of Queensland and commissioner of police denied all the allegations of discrimination.

Justice Mortimer did not order an apology but directed the commissioner to consider if one should be made.

Outside court, Mr Wotton said he hoped the community would be given an apology and that the decision leads to reform.

"Hopefully it will change a lot of things in the policing area," he said.

"Hopefully in the near future there will be honesty ... when it comes to policing and investigations."

A jury acquitted Sen Sgt Hurley of Mr Doomadgee's manslaughter in 2007.

He was convicted last Friday of assaulting a man he grabbed by the throat and pointed a Taser at during a roadside arrest on the Gold Coast in 2013

The Queensland government is considering the judgment before commenting further.

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