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Stonington police need to explain how two suspects just drove away

The nagging question concerning the Stonington Police Department investigation into the beating of a Black hotel employee by two white people remains: How did the police let those two get away?

The department released further details Monday about the June 26 incident that left Mystic Quality Inn employee Crystal Caldwell with a concussion, badly injured right eye, and injuries to her face, ribs, back, and wrist. Included were the names of the man and woman seen in a security video hitting, kicking and shoving Ms. Caldwell, who is 59, to the floor. They are Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 28, said to live in Nassau County on Long Island.

Where, exactly, police are trying to find out. They have a warrant to serve on Orbay for third-degree assault and one for Sarner for second-degree assault, a more serious charge. If police had detained the two at the time of the incident, they would not be looking for them now.

As a publication that routinely covers crime, police actions, and court proceedings, The Day is familiar with the complexities and confusion of a crime scene, but there was plenty of evidence and witness statements at the time to detain Orbay and Sarner. Officers were planning to escort them back to the hotel for their belongings after they had been seen at the Emergency Department at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London. The official explanation is that police were told by someone at the hospital that they could not enter to interview a patient because of COVID-19 precautions.

A hospital spokeswoman shed no further light on that version Monday, saying that the hospital's policy remains "to cooperate with law enforcement in performing their duties at the hospital," although with the addition of COVID screening under current conditions. She would not comment on the specific conversation between the hospital and the police.

The victim and the public need to know what was said, if anything, between the hospital and the police; whether the officers failed to act with the urgency warranted by a vicious attack caught on video; whether their training failed them or they failed to act as trained; and why, if they believed they could not enter the hospital, they did not just go stand by at the exit. Orbay and Sarner returned to the hotel lot in a Lyft car and then simply drove away. They may have been laughing all the way home at how easy it was.

Now, nearly two weeks later, the couple has not been questioned and law enforcement in two states is looking for them. A Day reporter was able Monday to text Sarner, who refused to comment. Police revealed that he has an extensive criminal record and has served prison time in New York.

When police response goes this badly in this many ways, the next question is why the missteps. What follows is the unwelcome suspicion that someone may not have been trying hard enough. The victim has said that her attackers called her an "old monkey" and said, "Black Lives Matter? Your life doesn't matter." That aspect is still under investigation, but how could police at the scene fail to realize that the incident might have been a hate crime based on racial bias?

The outstanding warrants for Orbay and Sarner do not include any hate crime charges, although the state's attorney for the New London Judicial District, Michael Regan, said Monday that he is working with the U.S. Attorney's Office in an ongoing investigation. Federal involvement may ultimately mean additional charges.

What small town police in Connecticut cannot afford to miss is that the climate of the entire country is in turmoil over unequal treatment of Black victims and Black suspects. It doesn't matter if it's Stonington or a metropolis. To be clear: Ms. Caldwell was not harmed by police, but she may not have been well enough served.

Once again the issue comes back to adequate training for police responding to calls. Did officers do less than they should, or normally would, to detain the two suspects?

The hospital also needs to be clear, and say whether or not police were indeed told to stay away. Only when the facts are public will people know what to think, and what to demand in correcting the failures.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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