The Guardian 17 August, 2005
Palm Island police raids illegal
Police unlawfully stormed houses on Palm Island after last year’s riot, an inquiry by Queensland’s crime watchdog has found. In a report released by Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) said heavily armed officers did not have the power to burst into the homes of the Aboriginal community after the disturbances in November last year.
The finding came as a senior police officer admitted the investigation into the death in custody of a Palm Island man was flawed and that more could have been done to help the victim’s family.
Under the Public Safety Preservation Act 1986, police should not have entered and searched the private houses because the riots had ended and there was no longer a state of emergency, the report stated.
However, the CMC said it could not substantiate allegations police had assaulted residents when they stormed the houses.
One resident accused police of hitting with a Taser stun gun and a baton, while another alleged police had said they "could kill them and no one would know what happened to them".
The report did not find any grounds for disciplinary action against the officers involved. Palm Island mayor Erykah Kyle said the CMC’s findings did not help the community move on from its breakdown with the police, sparked by the release of a post-mortem examination of Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, which revealed he died from a punctured lung while in police custody.
"It’s quite upsetting still for us that our people have experienced such an ordeal", Cr Kyle said. Palm Island resident Rick Johnson said his five-year-old son was "very terrified" of the police working with the Aboriginal community, located off the Townsville coast in north Queensland.
"Every time he sees the coppers now he runs away and hides", Mr Johnson said.
However, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie defended the police’s action in the days following the riot by up to 300 residents, in which the police station and adjoining courthouse were burnt to the ground. "For God’s sake, you know there was a riot, the police station was burnt down, there was police in fear of their lives … I haven’t seen a lot of public sympathy for that."
Queensland Indigenous Affairs Minister John Mickel refused to comment on the CMC report. "You would appreciate that the matter’s before the police and the courts … It is entirely inappropriate for me to comment on that", he said.
Detectives gave evidence at a committal hearing of the 21 people charged over the violent riot.