Officers won't be charged in Santina Rao arrest at Halifax Walmart
Nova Scotia's police watchdog says officers did not use excessive force
Two Halifax Regional Police officers will not face charges in connection with the controversial arrest of a Black woman earlier this year that gained widespread attention amid allegations of racial profiling.
The arrest, which came under public scrutiny after a short video of part of the encounter was posted online, occurred at a Walmart store in Halifax on Jan. 15. The woman, Santina Rao, suffered several injuries, including a fractured wrist.
But in a decision released Wednesday, Nova Scotia's Serious Incident Response Team (SIRT) found the officers did not use excessive force.
"We have to remember that SIRT is looking at if the officer committed a crime," Rao's lawyer, Gordon Allen, said Wednesday.
"It's a pretty high standard. They're not looking at if there are violations of the Police Act regulations, they weren't looking if perhaps something untoward happened in initial interactions, if negligence was involved or these sorts of things."
What SIRT says happened
According to the SIRT report, police were called to the store to investigate a shoplifting complaint. As one officer approached Rao, who was with her two young children, he noticed she was already in an agitated state, according to SIRT.
When questioned about the contents of her stroller, she became more upset and accused the officer of being racist.
A second officer arrived at the Walmart and, according to SIRT, they tried to de-escalate the situation, warning Rao that her behaviour could result in her arrest for causing a disturbance.
Rao started walking towards a store employee. The second officer grabbed her arm. The SIRT report said she scratched the officer in the face with her nails. When he took her to the ground, the report said, she scratched him again, drawing blood. She then struck him in the groin. He responded by striking her in the face.
"Given the aggressiveness of the female, the actions of the officer in this matter were reasonable to effect the arrest and protect himself," SIRT director Felix Cacchione wrote in his decision.
Rao, who has said she was racially profiled during the incident, was originally charged with causing a disturbance, assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest. Charges against her were dropped in July.
In a short Facebook post Wednesday, Rao said "no de-esclalating took place that day," and that "I was not met by one kind or friendly person the entire altercation."
Allen said he has not received instruction from Rao about whether to proceed with any further legal action. He said the SIRT decision "triggered" Rao and she took it very personally.
Immediately following the SIRT announcement, Halifax Regional Police released a statement, saying it has resumed its investigation into a public complaint about the incident. Police had paused their investigation while SIRT did its work.
"Building trust with communities we serve is a priority for HRP," the police statement read in part. "Today, we re-affirm our commitment to continually work towards that goal."
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.