The streets surrounding the Halifax Provincial Courthouse were flooded with chants of support for a Black Halifax mother who alleges a racial profiling incident at Walmart led to Halifax Regional Police officers assaulting her.
“I personally just want what happened to be addressed and I want the officers involved in the situation to be held 100 per cent accountable,” Santina Rao told reporters outside a courtroom. “I also want Walmart to be held 100 per cent accountable because they were the ones who initially first made the phone call to ask HRP to come.”
With her father and her lawyer, Gordon Allen, by her side, Rao said she wants people to know that there are “repercussions” for treating people the way she was treated while shopping with her two children at the Walmart on Mumford Road in Halifax.
Rao, 23, alleges she was physically abused by Halifax Regional Police (HRP) after she was accused of “concealing items” at Walmart.
Nova Scotia’s police watchdog has announced it will investigate the incident, which Rao says left her with a broken wrist, a concussion and injuries to her neck and arms.
Rao is charged with disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer.
The Crown has requested that the matter be put over until May 12 while the Serious Incident Response Team (SiRT) completes its investigation.
Rao says she is still recovering from her broken wrist and relying on family to help with her children and her household.
She calls her arrest traumatic and wishes it had not happened in front of her children.
“I just really wish that my kids didn’t have to, especially my daughter, didn’t have to witness any of that. That’s the hardest thing. It really, really dwells on me,” Rao said.
Allen says the case is an example of police failing to de-escalate a situation, especially with children involved.
“We view it as something that was a situation created where there shouldn’t have been one and the situation was escalated, not de-escalated,” Allen said.
Rao says she went to the hospital after she was released from custody and was diagnosed with a broken wrist and concussion. She says her eye was bruised during the process of officers tackling her to the ground.
Allen says both Walmart employees and police officers failed to take into consideration the negative impact the escalation would have on Rao’s children.
“A few dollars’ worth of produce were placed in an open bin, under a carriage. She’s surrounded by five adults, including two police officers, and detained, although committing no crime. She’s asked to show her identification, although there are no ‘street checks’ or ‘mall checks,'” Allen told reporters.
When Rao shared photos of her injuries on social media on Jan. 16, Halifax Regional Police responded with an email statement.
“Halifax Regional Police is aware of concerns expressed by a woman who was arrested…We take any allegation of this nature very seriously and we are currently looking into the matter closely,” HRP said.
Police said they are not in a position to discuss specifics but confirmed that at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 15, they received a report of a theft in progress at Mumford’s Walmart in Halifax.
“Officers approached a woman who was believed to have concealed items. She became verbally abusive and was behaving aggressively,” police said. “The officers then attempted to place the woman under arrest for causing a disturbance. She resisted and assaulted one of the officers.”
Allen says there are “a lot of moving parts” to the case but that Rao’s well-being is paramount.
“We want to make sure some good comes out of this at the end of the day because this is something that should never have happened,” Allen said.