Smallwood arrest `shames' city

By: Tony Koch, Ali Lawlor

AN urgent ministerial investigation was needed into accusations of police mistreatment of respected Aboriginal leader Gracelyn Smallwood, Townsville MP Mike Reynolds said yesterday.
Mr Reynolds, who is Premier Peter Beattie's north Queensland representative, said Townsville had been ``shamed in the national spotlight'' by the allegations.
The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed that Professor Smallwood suffered spinal injuries when she wa thrown into the back of a police wagon after telling six officers they were acting like the Ku Klux Klan in the arrest of an Aboriginal youth.
She was taken to Townsville watchhouse, strip-searched and imprisoned for 3 1/2 hours after she intervened on behalf of Aboriginal elder Renarta Prior and the youth who was being handled roughly.
Professor Smallwood said she would be making an official complaint to the Criminal Justice Commission about the incident which is due to comes before the courts on Friday.
Mr Reynolds said he was ``personally outraged at any possibility that this remarkable Australian has been physically mistreated and denied basic human rights''.
He said any breach of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act should be taken very seriously.
``I spoke with Police Minister Tom Barton this afternoon and his advice was that Ms Smallwood immediately refer the issue to the CJC for investigation if that is her desire,'' Mr Reynolds said.
Professor Smallwood, who has had to wear a neck brace since the incident, said yesterday it was illegal for any other Australian to ride without restraint in the back of a utility, yet police were able to throw Aboriginal people in and ``drive with abandon''.
``I was with a young woman and we were yelling for the car to slow down, but the driver would not do so. The other woman was charged with damaging the inside of the utility -- but, for goodness sake, on what charge was she thrown in there in the first place?
``The strip-searching and then having to sleep in a cell that was flea-ridden, with a blocked, filthy toilet, was the most demeaning conduct I have had to endure. Yet my black brothers and sisters cop it all the time.
``People get charged for carting dogs and other animals unrestrained in the backs of utilities, yet it is all right for police to throw Murri people into these cages and cart them off for the most undignified and belittling treatment. It is a disgrace what is happening to my people.''
A police spokesman said national traffic laws which make it illegal for anybody to be transported in the back of a utility did not apply to emergency or police vehicles.
Professor Smallwood was not allowed to telephone legal aid or her family after her arrest, and there was no indigenous police liaison officer on duty.
Queensland Council for Civil Liberties vice-president Terry O'Gorman said Professor Smallwood's strip-search was a serious breach of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act.
He said strip-searching, particularly women, for public order offences was ``utterly unacceptable''.
The arrest occurred when Professor Smallwood and other Aboriginal women were outside the Sovereign Hotel where they often offer to drive home people who have had too much to drink.