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VIDEO: Charges against Santina Rao dropped

Santina Rao, right, and her supporters Kate Macdonald, left, and El Jones cheer, as a passing vehicle honks in support, after she  spoke to the media  outside the Halifax provincial courthouse on Spring Garden Road in Halifax on Tuesday, July 8, 2020.
Santina Rao, right, and supporters Kate Macdonald, left, and El Jones cheer as a passing motorist honks in support after Rao spoke to the media outside the Halifax provincial courthouse Tuesday. - Tim Krochak

Multiple charges against a Halifax woman who accused the police of racially profiling her, leading to her violent arrest at a Walmart store, were dropped Tuesday morning.

A sheriff approached Santina Rao just outside the entrance to the Halifax provincial courthouse to let her know that all charges against her, stemming from an incident in January, had been formally withdrawn.

“Now I don’t have to feel like I have to constantly defend myself all the time and defend my actions, because now people are starting to see and understand that my actions that day were completely justified,” Rao said at a news conference outside the courthouse.

On Jan. 15, the 23-year-old woman was shopping with her two children at the Walmart on Mumford Road in Halifax when she was approached by Halifax Regional Police officers and accused of shoplifting.



Rao said that when she questioned their actions, an officer said they could arrest her for disturbing the peace. An officer grabbed her arm to try to detain her, Rao said, so she tried to push him off her and scratched his face before the other officers stepped in and put her on the floor to subdue her.

Rao, who suffered a black eye and broken wrist in the incident, was charged with assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest and causing a disturbance. She was never charged with shoplifting.

The Crown’s decision to drop the charges was “made in accordance with our policy ... after a detailed and thorough analysis of all the information provided by police,” Public Prosecution Service spokeswoman Chris Hansen said in an emailed statement.

“There were specific concerns in this case with respect to realistic prospect of conviction. Even if it was possible to address those concerns, an assessment of the public interest factors resulted in the decision to halt the prosecution.”


Santina Rao signs her complaint against Halifax police, given to her by her lawyer Gordon Allen, after she  spoke to the media  outside the Halifax provincial courthouse on Spring Garden Road on Tuesday. - Tim  Krochak
Santina Rao signs her complaint against Halifax police, given to her by her lawyer Gordon Allen, after she spoke to the media outside the Halifax provincial courthouse on Spring Garden Road on Tuesday. - Tim Krochak


Although Rao feels some relief from the charges being dropped, she said she still doesn’t feel entirely free of the situation.

“Complete freedom from this instance would be that the police involved would be held accountable and that Walmart would also be held accountable,” she said.

“My daughter, who will be four in November, still talks about what happened every day, so she deserves that justice.”

Gordon Allen, Rao’s lawyer, said Rao will be filing a five-page complaint under the Police Act against the Halifax Regional Police officers involved in her arrest.



“We think that’s important because the (Special Incident Response Team) investigation, which has been completed, ... will determine if the officers committed a crime, perhaps an assault or something along these lines, and we await these results, but that’s not the be all and end all,” Allen said.

“It doesn’t get into such things as racial profiling, if there was bias (or) if the police should’ve dealt with a complaint by the store differently.”

In a statement, Halifax Regional Police Chief Dan Kinsella said he was aware the Crown decided not to proceed with the charges against Rao and it was “important for due process to unfold.”

“I recognize that while it was important for the matter to be examined by the Crown, this is one aspect of the process,” Kinsella said. “The public expects HRP to apply an organizational lens and take a look at the various aspects of what took place.”


Santina Rao listens as her lawyer Gordon Allen announces what action they are pursuing against Halifax police, Halifax Regional Municipality and Walmart in connection with Rao's violent arrest at the Walmart store on Mumford Road in January. - Tim Krochak
Santina Rao listens as her lawyer Gordon Allen announces what action they are pursuing against Halifax police, Halifax Regional Municipality and Walmart in connection with Rao's violent arrest at the Walmart store on Mumford Road in January. - Tim Krochak


Kinsella said while the police force awaits the outcome of the SIRT investigation, he wanted 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,” he said, adding the force recognizes there is more work to be done and commits to do better.

Allen said they also plan to launch, by Labour Day, a civil action against the Halifax Regional Municipality, based on what happened to Rao, the humiliation she faced and her injuries.  



Walmart has already been served a letter about intended action and was mandated to preserve all evidence related to the incident.

“The hope is that this contributes to the process that is happening all over North America and in our own city about evaluating policing and how police can better deal with individuals in a type of policing that we can have in our society,” Allen said.

Activists El Jones and Kate Macdonald read a statement on behalf of Troylena Dixon and her teenage son, who suffered multiple injuries, including a concussion, during his arrest outside of the Bedford Place Mall in February, to raise awareness of others in a similar situation to Rao.

“I feel like it’s not even really like I am on the other side still … because there’s still this wall for Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement,” Rao said.

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