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News brief: Fairness of SIRT report on Santina Rao arrest questioned

SIRT director (and former judge) Felix Cacchione. Photo Courts NS

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – SIRT didn’t do a good job investigating the violent arrest of Santina Rao.

Rao is the young Black mother who suffered a concussion and a fractured wrist after police falsely accused her of shoplifting at the Halifax Walmart in January and arrested her in front of her children.  

Tony Smith, who was hired to provide a Black perspective to counterbalance an entirely white investigative team, believes the investigation was seriously flawed and that the report’s conclusions were incorrect. That final report absolved the officers of any wrongdoing. 

See also: The Santina Rao SIRT report is nothing but a smear campaign

Smith has shared his concerns with both CBC reporter Elizabeth Chiu and radio host Sheldon MacLeod.  

Smith, who played a lead role in the restorative inquiry into the abuse at the Home for Colored Children, was asked to provide input into the investigation to counteract the biases and blind spots of an entirely white investigative team. 

In the two interviews Smith complains of a lack of access and raises several questions about the investigation:

  • Not all pertinent camera footage was made available by Walmart;
  • The officers were never interviewed by SIRT, the investigation relied on the officers written statements and a report;
  • there was reason to believe one of the officers was a racist and that lead was not followed up.   

He has a message for Rao.

“I just want to let (Santina Rao) know that I believe her, I stand by her,” he said. “I went into this position to look at and to seek the truth and justice, and she was denied that justice by not really truly getting a fair investigation,” he told the CBC.

In an email to the Nova Scotia Advocate SIRT director and author or the report Felix Cacchione rejects all of Smith’s concerns.

All available video footage was reviewed, and officers are under no obligation to talk with SIRT investigators, writes Cacchione.

Most intriguing, Cacchione argues that whether one of the arresting  officers was known to be racist has no bearing on the investigation.

“The complaint about the officer being a racist was dealt with internally by the Professional Standards department of the HRP. It had no bearing on the SIRT investigation,” he writes.

Meanwhile, the SIRT report makes a big deal out of Santina conducting an at times loud phone conversation in the store prior to her arrest, among much other irrelevant information. 

Read Felix Cacchione’s response to our questions here. Read a transcript of the Sheldon MacLeod interview with Tony Smith here (via Desmond Cole).

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  1. This decision by Cacchione is totally wrong. An all-white panel made this decision, why was Tony not told or involved in this. What did they think they were doing when he was asked for his input and was never informed about any of these White Sirt? officers were putting forward. What Sirt did was hire what they saw as a Token Black and then walked all over him. Cacchione needs to STEP DOWN. I do not care what anyone has to say. This young lady was thrown to the ground, received a concussion, and a broken wrist. For what??? She ask them to search her, but they did not. She had not stepped outside of the store so they could not charge her with theft. If It had been me, I would have reacted the exact same way. They did this in front of her small children. It does not take 7 Police cars to intervene in this , unreasonable arrest, and physically injure her for what ???. Why did they through her on a cement floor, yes there is a video of this that the public has all seen? Do any of you really think this is fair. I THINK NOT. What if this had been your white Daughter??? Would you feel the same way.??? No, I do not think so. It is believed that one of the Officers was Racist’s (I believe that)Then Cacchione says it did not MATTER if he was. This needs a Public Inquiry, into how Police treat Blacks in the HRM. These Police Officers need to be removed. With a Public Inquiry, they should not be able to stack the deck with all White Men and no Black Men. This is UNBELIEVABLE.

    1. And and what is going on with all men making a judgement on a woman? Women would have a more realistic perspective on this young mother shopping with an infant and small child.

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