The Guardian 2 February, 2005

Allegations of police harassment on Palm Island

The death in custody of Palm Island man Cameron Doomadgee is still greatly affecting the small island community.

Kevin Rose, a lawyer who works for the Aboriginal Lagal Aid Service in Townsville said that at least ten Palm Island residents are considering suing police for allegedly acting unlawfully in the wake of the riot that followed Mr Doomadgee's death.

Many claim police entered their homes without warrants or acted with unnecessary force.

The Koori Mail of January 12, 2005 ran a front-page article entitled "Living in Fear" which described the trauma experienced by the residents.

Gail Wotton, mother of a 16-year old girl, described what happened: "My daughter is an innocent Christian girl who was in one house which police raided looking to arrest people and she was placed on the floor and had a weapon held at her head. I am very angry that it could have happened."

The incident took place in late November and Mrs Wotton's daughter is still affected by the experience.

Mrs Wotton was not in the house at the time but was told that police even looked inside the fridge. "How could any person hide in a fridge?" she said.

Brad Foster, chief executive of Carpentaria Land Council and a Palm Island community leader, said up until a few weeks ago the police were still raiding houses in full riot gear and frightening residents.

He gave an example of how it happens.

"On December 31, my younger brother was sitting at home here. Three carloads of coppers rocked up in full-body riot gear with masks on, with two plainclothes police. They smashed the front and back doors and walked straight into the house. There were six kids asleep in the lounge room who were disturbed by what happened. The police said they were looking for drugs but didn't find anything. This kind of behaviour hasn't stopped yet."

In the first couple of days after the riot in November about 50 homes were entered by the police looking for people.

There are still 30 to 40 police on the island.

Premier Peter Beatty supports the police actions: "I have been supportive of the police action in restoring law and order on the island and I remain supportive."

Mr Beatty also said that people were "free to take legal action in the courts if they want to. This is a democratic society and people have legal rights."

In a democratic society people should not die in police custody and children should not be placed face down on the floor and threatened with guns.

Back to index page