Charges against Santina Rao in connection with violent arrest dropped

Click to play video: 'Charges against Santina Rao dropped'
Charges against Santina Rao dropped
WATCH: Rao’s violent arrest in Walmart back in January was caught on camera and prompted public outcry about police brutality and systematic racism. As Jesse Thomas reports, Rao is now looking for compensation. – Jul 7, 2020

The charges laid against a woman who accused Halifax Regional Police of racial profiling and physical abuse have been dropped.

Santina Rao was facing charges of disturbing the peace, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer in connection with an incident at a Halifax-area Walmart in January.

She appeared in Halifax Provincial Court on Tuesday, where her charges were formally dropped. Rao then stood in front of the court on Spring Garden Road, as a crowd of people had gathered to show their support.

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“I had no idea that actually so many people would have cared,” said Rao, to the crowd of more than 50 supporters. “I appreciate every single person who has come out to support me today.”

Rao was accused of “concealing items” at Walmart on Jan. 15 after she placed a bag containing items she intended to purchase underneath her children’s stroller.

Click to play video: 'A few dozen supporters appear at Halifax Provincial Court calling for Santina Rao’s charges to be dropped'
A few dozen supporters appear at Halifax Provincial Court calling for Santina Rao’s charges to be dropped

Rao told Global News earlier this year that she was on her way to ring up some produce when she was stopped by police officers and store staff.

Caught off guard, Rao says she immediately felt like she was being racially profiled and told officers she had nothing to hide.

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Rao alleges that instead of checking her items, one of the officers asked for her identification and began to question her.

She claims that despite repeatedly telling the officers to check her bags, they did not do so. She says the officer told her that police could arrest her if she didn’t “calm down.”

That’s when Rao alleges excessive force was used to try to put her in handcuffs.

“I pulled away and said, ‘No, you’re not (arresting me),’ and he grabbed me again forcefully by my arm and pulled me towards him, to pull my arm back and put me in cuffs. So I took my free right hand and pushed him in his face and scratched him away,” she said.

Click to play video: 'Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police'
Halifax mother says she was physically assaulted by Halifax police

Rao says she was in a traumatic state and felt trapped and as though nobody was listening to her.

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Rao alleges she was punched and tackled to the ground. She says that instead of being taken to hospital or treated by paramedics, she was taken straight to the police station and put into a cell until she was released later that evening.

On Monday night she said she received a call from her lawyer Gordon Allen who told her the charges against her were being dropped and said she felt an overwhelming sense of relief and freedom from the incident that has shaken her.

“I feel great about it,” said Rao. “I really didn’t think it would have come this quickly at all. I thought it would have dragged on for so many more months.”

But Rao said she doesn’t feel “completely free,” and says she’s been left physically and mentally wounded from the incident and is looking to hold the police and Walmart accountable for what transpired.

At the time of the arrest, Rao was shopping with her infant son who was inside the stroller and her 3-year-old daughter.

“I believe there needs to be repercussions for them and some kind of justice for these circumstances,” said Rao.

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Her lawyer Gordon Allen said he requested that the public prosecution team drop the charges against Rao and felt it was inappropriate for the case to proceed because of the lack of any reasonable or strong arguments being made against his client and because of the intense public interest in the case.

Allen says he’ll be filing a police act complaint on behalf of Rao against the two arresting officers and will also be filing a civil lawsuit against Walmart and the Halifax Regional Municipality for damages.

Click to play video: 'N.S. Black community responds to alleged police assault of young mother'
N.S. Black community responds to alleged police assault of young mother

“The hope is this contributes to the processes happening all over North America and in our own city about evaluating policing and how police can better deal with individuals,” said Allen. “And the type of policing we can have in our society, it’s an essential service.”

The Serious Incident Response Team has been investigating the arrest incident, as they are mandated to investigate all matters that relate to incidents involving police and the public where serious injuries occur.

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SiRT director Felix Cacchione confirmed the investigation into the Rao arrest was completed late last week but due to the volume of case files, he has yet to review the investigation.

Cacchione confirmed it’s part of SiRT’s mandate that the director has 90-days to review the details of the investigation before releasing his final decision on the matter.

Following the Crown’s decision to not proceed with the charges against Rao, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella issued a statement recognizing that “while it was important for the matter to be examined by the Crown, this is one aspect of the process.”

“The public expects HRP to apply an organizational lens and take a look at the various aspects of what took place,” said Kinsella.

“Regardless of the outcome of the SiRT investigation or any next steps, today, I want to acknowledge the hurt this incident has caused to all involved. The trust between the public and a police service is crucial. We will let the process continue to its conclusion and we will learn from this incident and improve as an organization.”

Kinsella went on to say that this is a particularly difficult time for police-community relationships.

“The vast majority of HRP members serve this community with compassion, respect and an unerring sense of duty to serve. We also recognize there is more to be done and we are firm in our commitment to do better.”

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— With files from Global News’ Alexa MacLean, Aya Al-Hakim and Graeme Benjamin

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