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.
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.
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