Last updated 20 January 2022

A death in custody that appears to be a suicide will be subjected to an independent inquiry by the Queensland Police Service (QPS) Corrective Services Investigation Unit to explore whether the death was not self-inflicted or the result of natural causes. It is expected that such investigations will be completed within six months of the death, but sometimes delays are unavoidable.

The Office of the Chief Inspector from Queensland Corrective Services may appoint independent external inspectors to investigate particularly for systemic failures within a correctional centre.

Any deaths occurring during police operations will be investigated by officers from the Ethical Standards Command of the QPS, with that investigation being overseen by the Crime and Corruption Commission.

Case Study: Mulrunji (Cameron Doomadgee)

On 19 November 2004, within one hour of being picked up by police for public nuisance, Mulrunji died in custody at the Palm Island Police Station. Senior Sergeant Hurley claimed that Mulrunji sustained his injuries by tripping on a step.

On 28 February 2005, a coronial inquest into Mulrunji’s death commenced. Within a week, State Coroner Michael Barnes stood down following challenges to his impartiality. Later that year, the inquest recommenced under Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements (see Inquest into the death of Mulrunji (2006) COR 2857/04(9). The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in Townsville played a significant role in the inquest, representing Mulrunji’s partner. Ultimately, Coroner Clements found that Hurley fatally assaulted Mulrunji and recommended that criminal charges were laid.

Hurley was subsequently charged with manslaughter and assault, but was acquitted by a jury. Hurley successfully applied to have Coroner Clements’ findings overturned. Following a fresh inquest, Deputy Chief Magistrate Brian Hine found Hurley had not intentionally inflicted the fatal injuries (see Inquest into the death of Mulrunji (2010) COR 2857/04(9). Despite this outcome, Magistrate Hine recommended that future investigations of deaths in custody involving unnatural causes or police actions should be handled by the Crime and Misconduct Commission, rather than by the QPS in order to mitigate the impacts of impartiality and bias.