Nova Scotia

Halifax woman injured during Walmart arrest says Floyd's death 'extremely overwhelming'

A Halifax woman who was arrested while shopping at Walmart with her children earlier this year says she knows what George Floyd was feeling the day he died.

Public Prosecution Service says 3 charges against 23-year-old Santina Rao will go ahead

Santina Rao is expected to appear in provincial court on July 7 to face charges of causing a disturbance, assaulting a peace officer and resisting arrest after being arrested by Halifax Regional Police officers at a Walmart in January. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

A Halifax woman says she knows what George Floyd was feeling the day he died.

Santina Rao was injured when police arrested her while she shopped at Walmart with her kids earlier this year.

Rao, who suffered a broken wrist, concussion and bruising in the encounter with police in January, said she watched in horror as Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, was pinned under the knee of a white police officer for nearly nine minutes.

"It's been extremely overwhelming emotionally to say the least," Rao told CBC's Information Morning on Friday. "Just to hear his story and know that he's gone and I'm here is just emotional in itself."

Rao's case sparked renewed calls for an end to racial profiling by Halifax Regional Police. She said watching the video of Floyd's final moments took her back to what happened to her on Jan. 15 at the Mumford Road Walmart.  

"It's just almost like a PTSD trigger once I saw what was happening over there just so vividly in the news, but I'm just not surprised by it happening again," she said. 

That day in January, Rao was shopping with her baby and toddler after recently moving into a new house.

She said police officers confronted her inside the store, accusing her of trying to steal a head of lettuce, two lemons and a grapefruit that were in the bottom of her stroller.

Protesters demonstrate against police action in the death of George Floyd and others in Halifax on Monday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Her lawyer said police then asked Rao for identification, which she showed them. But the lawyer said that things escalated when the officers questioned Rao about her identification and one of them stood between Rao and her three-year-old daughter. 

A video posted by the Halifax Examiner to YouTube shows part of the altercation. It shows Rao swearing at a police officer to get off of her before one officer physically brought her to the ground and they struggled.

Rao was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and causing a disturbance, but not for stealing. Her case is expected to return to provincial court on July 7. 

Rao was shopping with her two children when she was stopped by two Halifax police officers, two Walmart security officers and a mall security guard. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

"There was no disturbance, there was no assault, there wasn't anything until the situation was created by her being inappropriately detained and questioned and someone getting in the way of her toddler," lawyer Gordon Allen said. 

Halifax police referred the case to the Serious Incident Response Team, which continues to investigate, although Allen said that body has no jurisdiction to wade into questions of racial profiling. 

Public calls for charges to be dropped

Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service said Thursday that it's received numerous requests from the public to drop the charges against Rao, but that her case will go ahead.

In a statement, the service said it cannot halt a prosecution "based on requests from the public and the Crown does not argue cases through the media," but that a Crown attorney will decide based on the available evidence.

Chief Dan Kinsella says his force continues to implement recommendations from the Wortley Report, which found that black people in Halifax are six times more likely to be street checked than white people. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

Chief Dan Kinsella with the Halifax Regional Police said he can't speak specifically to Rao's case, or whether she was being street checked when officers asked to see her ID, as the case is being investigated.

But he told CBC's Information Morning that any time a situation like that happens "it's of great concern."

"Those details will certainly come out, and we'll make whatever steps we need to take, correction or otherwise when we move forward," Kinsella said.

Communication and de-escalation are the most important things that have to occur.- Chief Dan Kinsella, Halifax Regional Police

Kinsella said in any encounter with police "communication and de-escalation are the most important things that have to occur." He said all front-line supervisors on the force recently received refresher training on de-escalation techniques, and that officers have also had anti-black racism, diversity and bias training.

"So there is regular communication about this, and the vast majority of calls we deal with appropriately, but there are those areas where we need to do some work and we will continue to do that," he said.

Floyd's death has "shaken all of our communities to the core," Kinsella said. "It's a horrible thing that is a gigantic setback."

Daughter remembers incident 

Rao said everywhere she goes she worries about being racially profiled. She said the same was true when she went to Walmart that day in January.

"It almost feels like you have to double check to make sure that you're looking around to be like, 'Am I allowed to be here?'"

She said because she's a black woman, people assume she's stealing. She said a white parent can put groceries in their stroller without a second thought. 

Rao says she knows what Floyd was "feeling when he was being approached by police, when the assault started and when he was being detained and then we were in very similar positions.” (Sylvia Jarrus/Reuters)

She doesn't know what will happen with her case, and said her main priority is caring for her kids. Her daughter, who is three, remembers everything that happened that day. She talks about it often and notices when her mom gets upset.

"My children and I have been through enough already before this incident happened," Rao said. "We've dealt with enough trauma and enough pain in our lives and then on top of this to deal with it, it's just, it's enough."

With files from CBC's Information Morning