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Lessons learned?

This is the way such reviews are supposed to work. Get an honest assessment of what went wrong, then learn from it.

After a troubling, racially charged incident June 26, during which surveillance video shows a white couple assaulting a Black female clerk at a Mystic hotel, Stonington police allowed the suspects to slip away back to New York.

The series of events was more disturbing because police knew they were dealing with a suspect, Philip Sarner, who had an extensive criminal record. Why wasn’t he arrested on the spot by Stonington police officers?

Stonington, to its credit, hired a third party to evaluate what happened, and a good one — Attorney Frank Rudewicz, a former Hartford police officer with experience on the FBI Organized Crime Task Force, and now employed by Blum Shapiro & Co.

Rudewicz concluded Sarner and his wife got away because of sloppy police work.

“(Stonington police) would be well served to use a review of this incident and response as a training tool for understanding of possible variables present in similar situations,” wrote Rudewicz.

When Sarner and Emily Orbay went to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital for treatment of injuries allegedly sustained in their encounter with clerk Crystal Caldwell, the officers had a plan. When the couple went back to the hotel to get their things the arrests would be made. For added assurance, Sarner was told he would need a police escort to get back on the property.

At 3:15 p.m., Sarner called police to say he was still in the hospital. In reality, the couple had returned to the hotel and were headed back to New York in their car.

Rudewicz said officers should have made arrests at the hospital. Alternatively, they could have blocked Sarner’s vehicle to prevent escape.

Would police have acted more aggressively in making an arrest if racial roles were reversed, if a Black couple had attacked a white clerk? It is impossible to know. No report could answer that question. But police, and all of us, must be on guard against unintended biases.

Sarner ultimately was arrested and faces a felony assault charge, Orbay a misdemeanor assault charge. Both face charges of intimidation based on bigotry or bias.

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 Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser 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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