Cop let off after assault on Aborigine
6th December 2006
A QUEENSLAND police officer found to have punched a mentally handicapped, partially blind and deaf Aboriginal man so hard his eye was swollen shut was not charged because the state's corruption watchdog considered it unlikely he would be convicted.
Instead, the alleged victim, Shane McNamee, 21, will appear in Mount Isa District Court next year charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm and two counts of serious assault over the March 2004 incident at Doomadgee, an Aboriginal community in the state's northwest.
A confidential Crime and Misconduct Commission report obtained by The Australian shows there was enough evidence to charge the officer with assaulting Mr McNamee but that a successful prosecution would be unlikely because the "legal system and processes are completely foreign to indigenous peoples".
The officer has since been stood down from the police force on unrelated break and enter and drug possession charges.
"There was enough evidence. It was only problems with indigenous people and the legal system that prevented a prosecution being sought," said Mr McNamee's lawyer Stewart Levitt.
Mr McNamee alleges that the assault took place in Doomadgee after he was arrested at a nearby waterfall for having alcohol and being drunk in a "dry" area. Police used capsicum spray to subdue him before taking him to the local watch house.
Mr McNamee was allegedly kicked and punched by up to three officers at the station. The CMC found there was only evidence to support charges against one officer.
"I therefore consider the available material is sufficient to legally establish a criminal prosecution for at least assault (if not assault occasioning bodily harm) and disciplinary action for official misconduct against (the officer) concerning the injury Mr Shane McNamee sustained," the report states. The CMC report details how despite Mr McNamee having a cut lip, bruises on his face and swelling so severe he could not open his left eye, police did not let ambulance officers treat him, because he was "too unsafe".
A local doctor, who was contacted by the alleged victim's family, examined Mr McNamee, finding the injuries were consistent with a direct blow that could not have been self-inflicted.
The officer had less severe facial injuries.
But no prosecution of the policeman was initiated and Mr McNamee was charged with a range of offences.
The Doomadgee incident follows findings handed down in Townsville this year by Acting State Coroner Christine Clements in relation to the death in custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee.
Ms Clements found Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley responsible for his death and that the subsequent police investigation lacked "transparency, objectivity and independence".
The DPP is considering whether Sergeant Hurley should face criminal charges.
Police from Mount Isa investigating the alleged assault dismissed the accusations as "frivolous" but did not interview the officer involved and did not rely on medical evidence to conclude that there was no physical abuse. It was recommended that further complaints from the victim or his family be treated as vexatious.
Mr Levitt said: "This is another example of the Queensland Director of Public Prosecutions failing to exercise any reasonable discretion and acting as an agent for the police rather than ensure that justice is done through the courts."
The CMC found that another police officer could face disciplinary action for making false entries in the watch house register.