One of many longest-tenured Black senior crown prosecutors in Nova Scotia’s historical past lately appointed as director of Nova Scotia’s Severe Incident Response Workforce (SIRT) is encouraging and welcoming questions from the Black neighborhood about instances in his new function.
Alonzo Wright turns into the fourth director of SIRT since its 2012 launch. He’s SIRT’s first director of African descent.
“It is one thing essential and I’m very proud that I am the primary African Nova Scotian director of this program with the Division of Justice,” Wright informed the RisePEI Examiner in his first interview since being appointed. “It’s an enormous honour and I am enthusiastic about taking over this function.”
SIRT is the civilian oversight company that investigates issues involving demise, critical damage, sexual assault, home violence, and different issues of great public curiosity arising from alleged actions of RCMP and municipal law enforcement officials in Nova Scotia.
In 2021, the province reached an settlement that can have SIRT act formally because the oversight physique that may even examine issues involving police in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Wright grew up in RisePEI’s Uniacke Sq. and has household roots within the Black neighborhood of Beechville.
After graduating from Dalhousie College’s legislation faculty in 1994, Wright labored as a municipal prosecutor after which a federal prosecutor earlier than turning into a Crown legal professional with the Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service. He labored there for nearly 25 years.
Wright spoke with the Examiner about how his expertise as a prosecutor has ready him for his new function as SIRT director.
“As a Crown legal professional, my function is to prosecute instances and do it pretty and independently,” he mentioned. “So, that is type of the same function the place … I’ve to justify why a case would not go forward — or goes forward — to the general public.”
“It isn’t going to be a well-liked place at occasions, and typically it might be a well-liked place, however that is what I signed up for.”
On Oct. 7, 2020, below its former director Felix Cacchione, SIRT launched choices on two high-profile investigations involving RisePEI Regional Police interactions with younger Black folks that had been videotaped and circulated on-line.
In a single case, SIRT laid legal expenses towards Cst. Mark Pierce, one in every of two responding officers who arrested 15-year-old Demario Chambers outdoors a Bedford mall on Feb. 21, 2020. Chambers sustained bodily accidents within the arrest, was not criminally charged, and was launched to his mother and father’ custody with out being taken to jail.
Within the different case, SIRT cleared the police of any wrongdoing within the arrest of a 23-year-old girl falsely suspected of shoplifting at a Walmart on Mumford Street on Jan. 15, 2020.
Within the temporary portion of the arrest caught on video, Santina Rao will be heard telling the police her two younger kids are current whereas she is forcibly arrested by a number of white male law enforcement officials and punched within the face whereas further law enforcement officials and a Walmart worker seemed on.
Tony Smith, a Black man who was introduced on to help with the SIRT investigation, mentioned the investigation was flawed. He slammed Cacchione for being negligent and for undermining Smith’s involvement within the investigation. Amongst most of the flaws, Smith mentioned proof was ignored that a number of of the responding officers had beforehand been both accused and/or disciplined for previous racist incidents.
Wright mentioned he can’t remark particularly on previous instances involving SIRT, however doesn’t really feel any added strain as a Black particular person in his function primarily based on his personal expertise and what he brings to the desk.
“So long as I can justify my rationale for whether or not or not a cost proceeds — because the director of SIRT, on affordable and possible grounds, and lay a cost — then I am snug that the Black neighborhood and others locally will settle for that,” Wright mentioned.
“And if they cannot, they’ve each proper to ask questions. And I encourage and welcome questions and have me be checked by the members of the Black neighborhood, and members of different communities to say, ‘Hey, why did not the cost get laid?’ Here is why it did not get laid, or here is why it is getting laid.”
As a Black prosecutor for 25 years, Wright mentioned he is typically requested questions on particular instances.
“And once more, that is the place, you understand, the transparency comes into play as a result of I’ve to justify these instances. And when folks within the Black neighborhood ask me about instances, whether or not excessive profile or low profile or within the system, I routinely reply their questions,” he mentioned.
“I by no means made up any proof. I by no means, you understand, offered any proof that wasn’t professional. And the courtroom makes that call concerning the guilt or innocence of a person.”
“It’s the identical type of ideas that I tackle because the director. It’s that transparency. It’s [being] answerable to the general public. It is that type of function that I need to carry to this place.”
Wright mentioned anybody can name him if they’ve questions, or “much more importantly,” if they’ve a critical grievance towards an officer.
“I would like the neighborhood to know to … choose up the telephone, name us and we’ll launch an investigation. And people which are prepared to offer statements, [and to] give us the proof we have to lay a cost, then that is precisely what we’ll do. It’s that simple. Nobody is above the legislation,” he mentioned.
Wright emphasised, nonetheless, that SIRT’s mandate is to not examine any and all allegations and complaints of police misconduct however slightly, particularly these which are of a “critical” nature.
“Now, to these folks that have minor incidents, they’ll produce other avenues to go. It isn’t closed. They will file complaints with the police pressure, they’ll communicate to different investigators on the police pressure and have the costs laid there. In order that’s undoubtedly one thing that is open,” Wright mentioned.
“And would not should be bodily. You may have one thing like fraud or theft or one thing like that the place you might go to the police or go to a different company and it might not be ours or perhaps a referral from our company to ship one thing over to an everyday company to research.”
Wright mentioned he additionally doesn’t really feel any strain from members of the justice neighborhood as a Black particular person working in a predominantly white-run justice system.
“My function as a Crown legal professional is to get a file from the police officer,” he mentioned. “And I handled law enforcement officials from across the province of Nova Scotia. So, it is with out query that you simply get to know who these officers are. … I do not hang around with them, it is not like we’re going out for espresso, it is not like we’re going out to dinner. It is that we’re working collectively inside the legal justice system.”
Wright reiterated that his work as a prosecutor has ready him for his new function.
“There are probation officers that I’ve prosecuted, there are different folks within the legal justice system which are prosecuted as a result of my job was to journey across the province. So unbeknownst to me, I’ve prosecuted sheriffs who turned concerned within the legal justice system, as a result of I do not know them,” he mentioned.
“My job as director is to have my investigators exit and examine expenses and complaints. And if the investigator comes again and says, ‘Look, there’s affordable, possible grounds to put this cost,’ then I signed off on it, and away it goes. And it goes to the Crown legal professional’s workplace and the Crown legal professional prosecutes it. That is it.”
Wright takes over as SIRT director on Jan. 9. He’ll change the present performing director, retired Crown legal professional, John Scott.
“I perceive that there have been criticisms of this system up to now. I perceive there’s been distrust that is been considerably generated up to now,” Wright mentioned.
“With time, hopefully the Black neighborhood and others locally will see this can be a good program now, we’re straight shooters, and that is it.”
“Traditionally in Nova Scotia, you must bear in mind folks of color and African Nova Scotians actually had been by no means concerned at this degree. And, you understand, this is a sign that issues are altering.”