Nova Scotia SIRT investigates woman’s controversial arrest

Santina Rao withsmall pic of OmiSoore Dryden

Santina Rao, a 23 year-old mother of two young children, was confronted by Halifax police officers in a Walmart store, and accused of shop lifting. Rao, was then filmed by another customer, angrily protesting her innocence, and then being forcibly slammed to the ground and arrested. During the incident, Roa says she suffered a broken wrist, ligature marks on her neck, arms and back as well and a black eye. One police officer was injured in the incident and treated at hospital.

Police said in a news release last week that officers responded to a theft in progress complaint at the Mumford Road Walmart and approached a woman who was believed to have concealed items. The release says the suspect became verbally abusive and behaving aggressively, resisting arrest and assaulting one of the officers when they tried to place her under arrest for causing a disturbance.

Nova Scotia’s Serious Incident Response Team, an independent agency that investigates incidents involving police that leads to injury, announced via press release that the matter meets SIRT’s mandate, and it will investigate the incident.  

Meanwhile OmiSoore Dryden, Dalhousie University’s James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies, says Walmart employees and Halifax Regional Police officers share in the blame for Santina Rao’s violent arrest at the Mumford Road Walmart on Wednesday and they must be held accountable.  

“This can’t be forgotten. This was a ridiculous, unnecessary, violent, racist, misogynist incident and it must be addressed. It’s a clear-cut case of racial profiling by both Walmart employees and HRP officers, said Dryden.

That initial call to police should never have happened, said Dryden. She believes the employees involved in reporting Rao, as well as the arresting officers, need to be held accountable.

“Their job, as far as I’m concerned, is to de-escalate and there was no reason for the police to be there,” said the professor said.

According to Rao, when she was first confronted by police she had only four items packed into an open compartment in her son’s stroller: a head of lettuce, two lemons, and a grapefruit. At that point, she had already paid for about $90 worth of merchandise and had a receipt to prove it. The cashier instructed her to pay for the grocery items at the checkout at the front of the store and that`s what she intended to do. She had paused in the toy section for her daughter when she was approached by police.

The SIRT is asking for witnesses to the incident to contact the agency..