Halifax police cleared of wrongdoing in high-profile case of alleged racial profiling

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's police watchdog has cleared two officers of wrongdoing following their violent arrest of a Black woman who later alleged she was a victim of racial profiling.

The Serious Incident Response Team released a report today saying the arrest of Santina Rao in a Walmart on Jan. 15, which left her and one officer injured, did not involve the use of excessive force.

Agency director Felix Cacchione issued a statement saying the watchdog's investigation found Rao was agitated when approached by a Halifax Regional Police officer, who was responding to a shoplifting complaint.

The report says that when Rao was questioned about the contents of her stroller, she became more upset, accused the officer of being racist and started yelling when a second officer arrived.

It says the second officer grabbed Rao by the arm and pulled her to the floor when she started walking toward a store employee.

Cacchione says the officer hit Rao in the face after she twice scratched his face and hit him in the groin.

The investigation concludes the officer's actions were reasonable, given the "aggressiveness" of the suspect and the officer's efforts to protect himself.

In July, the Crown dropped all charges against Rao, including disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.

At the time, Rao said she tried to show the officers receipts for products she had placed in the stroller, and she said she agreed to let them search her purse and the stroller.

A cellphone video of the incident shows police wrestling Rao to the floor as she protests. She suffered a broken wrist and a concussion, which prompted the investigation by SiRT.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2020.

The Canadian Press