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Stonington police obtaining arrest warrants in Mystic racial attack case

Mystic — Stonington police have announced that on Tuesday they formally interviewed and obtained a written statement from a Black woman from Groton who alleges a white couple from New York beat her, called her an “old monkey” and said her life didn’t matter as she worked at the Quality Inn on Route 27 Friday morning.

In addition, Capt. Todd Olson said police were in the process of obtaining a warrant for the arrest of the man and woman that would allow for them to be extradited to face assault and possibly other charges. Although Olson did not specify what the other charges would be, one could be intimidation based on bigotry or bias, the state’s felony hate crime statute, as the clerk, Crystal Caldwell, 59, said the couple yelled racial slurs as they beat her.

In addition, Caldwell's attorney, M. John Strafaci of New London, and police clarified Tuesday that officers had not yet arrived at the hotel when the couple allegedly attacked her a second time. That information was incorrect in an earlier report in The Day.

Olson also said department protocol calls for officers never to leave the involved parties alone in such an incident.

In addition, more details emerged Tuesday about how police were prevented from arresting the man at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital and how the couple managed to get back to the hotel and flee.

The couple had requested they be taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries. Olson said police must first ensure the health and safety of anyone involved in an incident and provide medical attention if requested.

Olson said police later called the hospital and said a suspect in an assault was being treated in the emergency room and officers would like to come over to interview him and place him under arrest. Olson said police were told they should not come to the hospital due to COVID-19 precautions.

An L+M spokeswoman, asked about the hospital's decision, declined to comment.  

Olson said police then had the hotel deactivate the couple’s room key, so when they returned to collect their belongings, they would not be able to get back in and would alert the front desk. The hotel was then to call police.

Instead, the couple did not try to collect their belongings and drove off in their car.

Olson said police did not know how long the couple would be at the hospital and could not get information about their possible injuries due to privacy laws.

Caldwell's attorney criticizes police

Strafaci said he was pleased with the meeting he and his client had with police Tuesday morning but was disappointed with the length of time it was taking to charge the individuals who allegedly attacked his client.

“I’ve yet to get any type of an explanation that makes any sense as to why they didn’t take him into custody and her,” he said, referring to both alleged attackers.

Strafaci said he also was disappointed that, to his knowledge, police had not yet interviewed eyewitnesses to the attack, including at least two other employees and guests who were checking into the hotel when assault took place.

But Detective Greg Howard said Tuesday the initial investigating officers interviewed two employees and one guest and he personally re-interviewed the two employees on Tuesday. He said the guest did not want to be further involved.  

Strafaci said he thinks the case would have been handled differently if Caldwell were white.

“If a 59-year-old white woman who lived in Mystic was attacked by two Black individuals ... they would’ve been arrested on the spot and put in cuffs,” Strafaci said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that that would’ve happened, but Crystal is a Black woman from Groton.”

“Would there have been a little more interest and effort on their part if the victim was a different color? I think so," he said.

Olson stressed the case "was not handled differently because of who was involved. Period."

"That is never the case with anything we work on and it never will be," he said.

On Tuesday, Strafaci and Caldwell met with Howard.

“To my knowledge the first effort that has been made to properly investigate this was this morning, when Detective Howard met with Crystal and I,” Strafaci said. “I’m happy to at least be able to express that Detective Howard seems to be a very competent, diligent officer; we have confidence that he is going to pursue this in the proper way.”

Despite his confidence in Howard, Strafaci said he’s still outraged by the actions of the police officers who responded to the scene Friday.

“It doesn’t change the problem in general that they had police officers who quite frankly were doing lazy police work,” he said. “And I think that laziness had something to do with the fact that the victim was a Black woman.”

Strafaci said police told him they would not be releasing the video surveillance footage of the attack to him and Caldwell, but he hoped to obtain a copy from the hotel.

The alleged incident

Caldwell told The Day on Monday that she was working her part-time job at the front desk about 11 a.m. when a man staying at the hotel called to tell her his hot water wasn’t working. When Caldwell said she would have someone come fix it or could move them to a different room, she said the man became irate and swore at her. He said he was sending his girlfriend down to “kick her ass,” so she hung up.

The man came down to the front desk and Caldwell alerted her general manager and executive housekeeper, who spoke with him as he continued to threaten her. When she responded, the man ran toward her and jumped to swing at her over the desk, she said. She fought back and was punched repeatedly in the head, suffering a concussion, a swollen face and a badly injured right eye.

Caldwell said the man, who was white, called her an “old monkey” while punching her.

Caldwell said she waited for police in the employee lounge before venturing out into the hall to get ice for her rapidly swelling face. In the hall, she said, the girlfriend of the man who attacked her shouted at her for scratching her boyfriend. The couple pushed Caldwell up against the wall and then onto the floor, where she said they repeatedly kicked her in the back, injuring her ribs. The man lifted his foot to stomp on Caldwell’s face, but she said she was able to push herself off the floor.

During both attacks, Caldwell says, the man and woman hurled racial slurs at her, repeatedly calling her a “monkey” and saying “Black Lives Matter? Your life doesn’t matter, you don’t deserve to live on this earth.’”

Caldwell was taken to Pequot Health Center, where she said doctors told her she’d injured her wrist, back, ribs, head and eye. She was diagnosed with a concussion and ordered to see a specialist for a severe injury to her right eye.

On Monday afternoon, about a dozen people braved torrential rain to stand outside the Stonington Police Department in a show of support for Caldwell. The group included some of her relatives and members of We Won’t Stand Down, Black Lives Matter 860 and the Connecticut Parents Union.

On Tuesday, state Rep. Kate Rotella, D-Mystic, issued a statement that said, “Enough! People of color are being targeted by racists and we all must stand up and say, 'Enough.' Our neighbors, friends and families should not be terrorized by bigotry, hate and small mindedness. The time of silence in the face of racism is over — We must all stand together, speak out and root out racism and prejudice. I stand with Crystal Caldwell in solidarity, anger and sadness. Her attackers should be charged.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

t.hartz@theday.com

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