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Appointed SiRT observer says investigation into Santina Rao Walmart arrest was flawed

Click to play video 'Man calling for independent investigation into arrest of Santina Rao' Man calling for independent investigation into arrest of Santina Rao
The man tasked with observing the investigation into how police handled the arrest of Santina Rao in Halifax Walmart is speaking out. As Jesse Thomas report, Tony Smith says the review was flawed, so now he’s calling for an independent investigation into the matter. – Oct 9, 2020

Tony Smith said he was proud when asked to serve as an official observer as part of the Serious Incident Response Team’s (SiRT) investigation into the violent arrest of Santina Rao inside a Halifax Walmart in January.

Read more: Tony Smith appointed as observer for SiRT probe into alleged police assault of Santina Rao

Smith, who is the former chair of the restorative inquiry into the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, was recruited by then-acting SiRT director Pat Curran, but is now speaking out and saying the review was flawed.

“Looking at the report that came out, I can’t stand by that,” said Smith. “I have to be honest and I have to be transparent and I do not believe this was a thorough and proper investigation and I do believe there should be an outside investigation into this.”

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In his report released Wednesday, SiRT director Felix Cacchione says the evidence showed the officers who were called to an alleged shoplifting incident approached Rao, a Black woman, in the store and tried to de-escalate the situation when Rao became aggressive.

Smith sees it differently and believes the officers initiated the situation.

Cellphone footage inside the Mumford Road Walmart showed Rao tangled between three police officers before being tackled to the ground and arrested.

Click to play video 'Charges against Santina Rao dropped' Charges against Santina Rao dropped
Charges against Santina Rao dropped – Jul 7, 2020

The incident left Rao with a head injury and fractured wrist.

When he raised questions about issues with evidence and certain testimony, Smith said he was brushed off and when Cacchione came back and replaced Curran as director, Smith says his observer role changed.

“One would think that if someone like myself was hired in your organization to look at the documentation and give recommendations, that if I’m giving you some red flags, you would think you would want to speak about that, to make sure that it was proper, and at no time was he interested in that,” said Smith.

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

Global News spoke with Cacchione but he turned down an interview request and said the review findings speak for themselves. Curran also declined an interview and said his last day with SiRT was on May 31 when his role as interim director expired.

Smith says he feels used by SiRT and is adamant that Rao was the victim in this case and she wasn’t given a fair investigation.

“I strongly believe that justice was not done here, based upon the facts, regardless of my own opinion as a Black man here in Nova Scotia,” said Smith.

Although he hasn’t had the chance to speak with Rao, he’s hopeful they can meet and has a message to share with her.

“Stay strong, you will get through this and at the end of the day, there will be justice,” he said. “There are so many people who believe in her and I am one of them.”