Doomadgee had reading of 0.29
7th February 2005
AN autopsy of Cameron Doomadgee, who died in custody on Palm Island last year, found his blood-alcohol level was 0.29, almost six times over the legal driving limit, yet he was put in a police cell without any medical assistance.
The report from the first of two autopsies is expected to reveal that Doomadgee had consumed a cocktail of alcohol including "goom" – methylated spirits mixed with sweet cordial – before his arrest on the north Queensland island on November 19.
So serious has the issue of Doomadgee's death become that 16 barristers and solicitors have indicated they will be appearing at the one-day directions hearing of the coronial inquiry on Palm Island tomorrow. The hearing will be held in a marquee because there are no other premises large enough for the expected audience.
Coroner Michael Barnes will begin the hearing assisted by two senior counsel. Lawyers will include six appearing on behalf of state police. Others represented will be the Queensland Government, the Doomadgee family and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.
A week after Doomadgee's death, the findings of the first autopsy were read to a crowd of locals. When told that the report said his injuries – four broken ribs, which ruptured his liver and spleen – could have been consistent with him falling on a shallow concrete step at the Palm Island watchhouse, a riot ensued.
An estimated 400 people, half of them children, marched on the police station and courthouse, throwing stones and setting it alight.
The 18 police officers sent to the island to stop any trouble ran to the nearby barracks which was also set alight, and they then locked themselves in the hospital.
Nobody was injured in the incident, and over the following fortnight, 28 Aborigines were arrested and charged with offences ranging from arson to riotous behaviour.
A second autopsy was ordered by Mr Barnes and the results of that autopsy will not be revealed until late this month.
The autopsy report does not state what caused his death. It sets out the medical findings, and lists possible causes, but the findings on how Doomadgee sustained the injuries are now the task of Mr Barnes.
Doomadgee family spokesman Brad Foster yesterday said it was outrageous that Doomadgee had been arrested, been involved in a physical confrontation, and thrown into a cell when he was clearly more in need of medical help.
"The Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission spelt out emphatically that people who were intoxicated were to be taken to a diversionary centre and given medical assistance, not treated as criminals," Mr Foster said.
"Here we have a fit young man walking along the back streets of Palm Island in the middle of the morning, singing happily and obviously drunk. The police drive past him and he calls out, so they go another 150m, and then turn around to arrest him, throw him in the back of the paddy wagon, and then into the cell.
"You can't tell me that any experienced police officer would not see that a man with that blood alcohol reading was not really drunk. How could he have defended himself? And if there was an altercation and he was put in a cell, why wasn't medical assistance sought immediately?"
Mr Foster said local people were formulating a petition to go to Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone seeking a royal commission into policing on Palm Island, extending to all deaths in custody in Queensland in the past decade.