According to two Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) who attended to Carrie Low after she was sexually assaulted, Halifax police Const. Bojan Novakovic asked Low “inappropriate” questions.

Both SANEs were called to Dartmouth General Hospital soon after noon on May 19, 2018, where Low had showed up with her young daughter, to report the assault.

The senior SANE was Jane Collins, who had experience with over 200 victims of sexual assault. Collins’ junior partner was Samantha Sarty, who was then named Samantha King; Sarty had assisted on only a few sexual assaults by then, but she has since had about 70 clients. Both Collins and Sarty testified Tuesday at the second day of a Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing.

Low has appealed the Halifax Regional Police department’s disciplinary action against Novakovic, which consisted of just eight hours’ docked pay, and is further asking the review board to hear her complaint against the entire police department.

Related: Carrie Low testifies at hearing into Halifax police investigation of her sexual assault

‘Blaming’ and ‘badgering’ questions

When Collins and Sarty arrived at the hospital, there was no private room available to examine Low, but they could use the day surgery room, a large room that consisted of about eight beds. There was no one else in the room besides the three women and Low’s daughter.

Collins and Sarty conducted the routine post-assault examination. They each testified that the examination consisted of collecting toxicology and forensic evidence off Low. In the process, they asked Low questions about the assault in order to better understand what kind of evidence there might be, and where it might be. Low said she wanted the police involved, and so one of the SANEs called the police department.

Novakovic arrived at around 4pm.

“He was there promptly,” said Sarty. “He informed us that he was a trauma-informed officer, that he had gone through training, and that he was confident in speaking with the victim.”

At the hearing, Sarty could specifically remember Novakovic’s name from that day, but Collins could not, although she obviously knew what his name was on Tuesday, as he was in the same hearing room.

“As I recall, the officer kept pointing to a badge saying, ‘I have a special badge that gives me permission to do an interview,'” said Collins.

Collins and Sarty each testified that at that time they were putting paperwork together at work station several metres from Low, who was sitting on a hospital bed. Novakovic walked over to Low to question her.

“I interrupted [Novakovic’s questioning] several times, questioning why those questions were being asked,” said Collins. “I was upset. And at one point I asked the officer to leave the room with me and I asked him what he was doing asking [those] questions and he explained that he’s allowed to. I said, ‘I didn’t think it was appropriate.'”

“I thought he was badgering her,” Collins continued. “He just kept asking questions and she was crying. You know, to me, you don’t do that to someone who has gone through what, four hours, four and a half hours, of a sexual assault exam.”

A bearded bald man in a navy suit holds a pen and looks to the left of the frame in a grey room.
Const. Bojan Novakovic at the Nova Scotia Police Review Board hearing in Dartmouth on Monday, July 10, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

Asked for specific examples of questions, Collins replied that “Well, one of the things that Ms. Low had told us was that she was thrown on the floor of a vehicle and someone was lying on top of her and that a police car had pulled up in the parking lot. And the officer asked her why didn’t she shout and why didn’t she yell for help, which I didn’t think was appropriate because to me it was a blaming question.”

Collins said that she could remember the exact wording of other questions, but, “He was asking her about, you know, what happened and why didn’t you do this? And why didn’t you do that? I mean, it’s not fair to say that because I don’t remember the actual question, but it was putting the onus on Ms. Low as to why she couldn’t escape. It wasn’t anything I ever heard from a street cop before.”

As Collins saw it, detailed pointed police questioning of Low should have been done at a later date, by a trained member of the police department’s Sexual Assault Investigative Team (SAIT), in a proper interview room, and on camera. She said that the point of the immediate post-assault police interview should be only to help with the investigation, not to question the victim’s story.

“I usually give them [the first responding officers] a brief outline of what happened and, you know, is there a crime scene to be secured?” she explained. “I remember we had been told that panties and a shoe were left behind at the scene [of Low’s assault] and that a cab was taken from the area. So generally we advise the officer of that… The only story the officers have ever got is [enough for], ‘Do I need to secure a scene?'”

Collins’ general account was backed up by a the transcript of a phone message she had left with her department’s secretary that evening. It read:

Hi Jody, it’s Jane. We’re just leaving the hospital. Sam and I did a case, her name is Carrie M. Low, kit number SSR-01273, and we turned the kit over to the police. She was drinking in a bar in Dartmouth and ended up being shoved into a car with three or four black males. She believes she was drugged. We did tox, blood, and urine. We did photos. She was pretty upset. She’s 41 years old. She woke up at six this morning and she has a memory of two different black males having sex with her. She’s very sore. Interestingly, a police officer came to pick up the kit and he decided to do an interview. I asked him why because the SAIT team was supposed to be doing the interview and he said, no, it’s strictly routine now and it has been for years. And I said, You’re the first street officer who has come in and got the story after we got the story and SAIT’s going to get the story. He was making notes. It seems to me, a few years back, Susan had to go and talk to HRP because the officers were doing that. So I don’t know, but I’ll drop off the paperwork on Tuesday.

Sarty’s account mostly concurred with Collins’, although Sarty didn’t mention Collins and Novakovic leaving the room together.

Sarty said that she initially was focused on her work and so didn’t pay attention to Novakovic’s questioning of Low, but then she noticed a change in Low’s voice and demeanour, and so Sarty turned her focus to the questioning. Sarty said that Low was flustered, red in the face, and started crying.

“I recall him asking her, like, ‘Why didn’t you get out of the car?'” said Sarty. “I can’t recall verbatim [other questions]. Basically, what I remember, and I mentally noted, is that he was asking her a lot of ‘Why’ questions, that started with ‘Why,’ a lot of challenging questions… [questions] that seek to understand that the motive behind someone’s behaviour.”

In response, said Sarty, Collins “kind of leaned over and said, you’re not supposed to ask her those type of questions.”

On cross-examination, Novakovic’s lawyer Brian Bailey concentrated on small details, suggesting, for example, that Collins may have leaned over because he didn’t have a clear view of the conversation between Novakovic and Low. (Sarty testified she could see both Novakovic’s and Low’s faces, but Baily suggested a curtain may have blocked the view for Collins.) Bailey also noted that any victim of sexual assault would have an emotional response to recounting the assault, no matter what the questioning was.

The hearing resumes Thursday with the testimony of Jerell Smith, an RCMP officer formerly on the joint HRP-RCMP Sexual Assault Investigation Team (SAIT).

With files from Zane Woodford.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. What a travesty. The cops treated this poor woman almost as badly as the morally bankrupt thugs that perpetrated the crimes against her.