Police accused over island `terror tactics'

By: Tony Koch

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POLICE on Queensland's riot-torn Palm Island have been accused of using the Aboriginal population as terrorism guinea pigs after children as young as nine were forced at gunpoint to lie face down on floors during late-night raids by Tactical Response Group officers.
In full battle armour and carrying semi-automatic weapons, police stormed homes over the weekend in search of riot ringleaders who firebombed the local courthouse, police station and police living quarters last Friday.
A 15-year-old girl, Krysten Harvey, revealed she was left in tears after being forced to the ground at gunpoint in her own home while police searched for another man. And a nine-year-old boy, Chevez Morton said he was forced to lie face down in dirt in his back yard.
The riot erupted after locals were told of autopsy findings showing that Cameron Doomadgee, 36, had four broken ribs and a ruptured spleen and liver when he died in police custody on the island on November 19.
Thirteen Palm Islanders have been arrested and charged over the riot. They will appear in Townsville Magistrates Court today.
Premier Peter Beattie visited the island yesterday, producing a five-point plan to restore order.
But outrage over the heavy-handed style of the police response dominated the conversations of black and white residents of the troubled island.
Brad Foster, a Carpentaria Land Council official brought in by the Palm Island Council to help restore calm, said the police had acted like ``storm troopers''.
``They deliberately closed off the island while they practised their terrorist drills on unarmed Palm Islanders,'' Mr Foster said.
``If they asked the council and put up the list of people they wanted to speak to, they would have been presented to them without arrests being made at gunpoint and women and children being terrorised in their homes.''
Mr Foster, a former Brisbane Broncos and Canberra Raiders rugby league forward, said it was ``appalling'' that no one from Aboriginal Legal Aid was allowed on Palm Island to help those being arrested.
Teachers on the island also expressed concern for the children yesterday. But the Queensland Police Union hit back, demanding the rioters who firebombed the police station be charged with attempted murder.
``Our members were near burnt to death when these people set fire to the building,'' union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said yesterday. ``They were in fear of their lives because this place was burning with them inside it.
``It was a premeditated attack ... water services had been intentionally severed so there was no possible way for firefighters or anyone else to have fought the blaze.
``I would firmly expect that the focus of this investigation in the next few days will centre (on) the attempted murder of 12 police.''
Mr Fitzpatrick said none of the police who had to flee would ever go back to serve on the island.

``I have a clear indication from the members that they do not want to go back. I would envisage the police service will have considerable difficulty from here on providing this island with police.''
Alleged riot ringleader Lex Wotton was caught when four car-loads of police raided his home at dawn on Saturday. Witnesses said he was shot in the leg with a Taser immobiliser while he had his hands on his head and while five police held rifles on him.
Armed police ran through the house where his wife and children were sleeping.
In another incident on Saturday afternoon, Krysten Harvey, 15, was at home playing music when police with shields and guns pulled up outside.
``I went to run outside to get my brother (four-year-old Mark) but they told me to get down,'' she said. ``They had guns pointed at me and some ran through the house and they found Richard Pointer in the bathroom having a shower.
``They handcuffed him and took him outside, and the policeman with the gun on me said I could get up now.
``I cried when they left because I was frightened.''
Chevez Morton, 9, was playing in the yard when police in riot gear arrived on Saturday afternoon.
``They told me to lay on the ground and I put my face in the dirt,'' he said. ``It made me sad.''
At 6.30am on Saturday, Assan Clay, a father of five, was woken to the sound of his front door being battered in.
He leapt from his bed to be confronted by shotgun-wielding riot squad police, who yelled for him to hit the floor.
``My kids, aged from five to 16, were in the loungeroom and they ran past them yelling out that they wanted Douggie Miller,'' Mr Clay said.
``The door lock was smashed and there was a hole in the door itself, and I tried to tell them that Douggie was not here -- he has been in Stuart Creek prison for the past six weeks for stealing cars, so they obviously got some wrong information.
``They came back yesterday morning to photograph the door, and I asked them if they were going to fix it, but they said ``no''. They are just terrifying our children.''
Mr Beattie's five-point plan proposes to restore order to the island, replace infrastructure and provide assistance to the local administration.
It was accepted by the Palm Island Council, but council chair Erykah Kyle said that the pressing issue was the grieving and forthcoming funeral for Doomadgee.