UPDATED: Stonington police reports detail Quality Inn assault
Stonington — When veteran police Officer Brian Discordia spoke to the Lawrence + Memorial emergency room charge nurse on June 26 and asked if he would be allowed to enter the hospital to arrest suspect Philip Sarner, he said the charge nurse told him that he would not be allowed in to make an arrest.
In addition, he said the nurse told him that hospital personnel are not allowed to tell police when a person is being released after treatment. At the time of the call, Sarner was being treated in the emergency room and the other person police wanted to speak to, Emily Orbay, was in another unit at the hospital.
Sarner and Orbay, who are white, were charged late Monday with beating and making racist remarks to Crystal Caldwell, a Black woman who worked at the Quality Inn in Mystic. They were taken into custody in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Monday, more than two weeks after they fled following their release from the hospital. Police have been criticized for not making an arrest on June 26.
“I inquired about the COVID-19 protocol and I told her I need to enter the emergency room to arrest Sarner. She told me she could not stop me from going in to get statement but I would not be allowed to make an arrest. She told me they are not allowed to tell the police when any one is getting released,” said Discordia, adding the charge nurse said the unit where Orbay was being treated would likely have more stringent guidelines.
Sgt. Keith Beebe, meanwhile, said Discordia was told by the hospital that he would not be allowed to go into the hospital to make an arrest and for reasons of patient privacy the hospital would not call police about when the pair would be released.
“I did not agree, but understood the hospital’s position on this regarding the current COVID situation and decided not to challenge it in the spirit of a continued future working relationship with the hospital,” Beebe said.
Both Discordia and Beebe’s statements are contained in their official department report on the incident, which the department released to The Day on Tuesday after the newspaper requested them under the state’s Freedom of Information Act. The report redacts certain details, such as Caldwell’s name because she is considered the victim and some medical information about Orbay.
Asked about the officers’ statements Tuesday, hospital spokeswoman Fiona Phelan said the hospital had no further comment.
Last week she said that “consistent with all patient privacy laws, it is the policy of L+M Hospital to cooperate with law enforcement in performing their duties at the hospital.”
She added the hospital’s policies about allowing police into the facility haven’t changed due to COVID-19 other than requiring officers to be screened for the disease. But she declined to comment on the exact conversation that took place between Stonington police and hospital staff on June 26.
The reports by Discordia, Beebe and fellow Officer George Stamatien offer a detailed look into the assault and subsequent investigation.
Among the new information:
Sarner had deep scratches to the left side of his head and marks on his neck and claimed Caldwell attacked him while Orbay said Caldwell punched and kicked her in the stomach. Both asked to go to the hospital by ambulance.
Caldwell's attorney, M. John Strafaci, on Tuesday night called Sarner's claims "a complete lie." He said Caldwell was trying to defend herself as she fought for her life.
After they arrived at the hotel, police interviewed Sarner, Orbay, Caldwell, hotel Manager Dev Khambhati, executive housekeeper Dorothy Williams and a guest.
Video and witness testimony showed there were two physical altercations between Caldwell and the couple, who Beebe’s report says are husband and wife.
Sarner said that when he went to talk to Khambhati and Williams about the lack of hot water in his room, a conversation he had had earlier with Caldwell, she approached, “saying you can’t talk to me like that” and “I’m going to call my husband and you’re going to get stabbed.”
Khambhati confirmed Caldwell was yelling at Sarner not to show disrespect to her but could not say if she threatened to stab Sarner. Khambhati said when he went back to the front desk to help a guest, the first fight broke out, and he did not see who threw the first punch. He came back and broke it up.
At the time of the initial investigation, the only video available to police was of Sarner and Orbay “sprinting after” Caldwell down a hallway, but when Sarner reaches her, the video clip stops. The next clip is of them separated and yelling. The clip from the hotel surveillance system in which Sarner and Orbay are seen punching, kicking and throwing Caldwell to the floor when she subsequently tried to get ice for a head injury, was not available until three days later.
Discordia wrote that it was clear during the initial investigation that Caldwell was acting in self-defense and the injuries sustained by Sarner and Orbay were the result of that. He wrote that police knew they had probable cause to arrest the couple.
After talking to the hospital, Discordia wrote that he and Beebe devised a plan to arrest Sarner when he left the hospital.
They had Khambhati cancel the room keys and asked him to call police if Sarner and Orbay returned. Discordia spoke by phone with Sarner, who maintained he was the victim, and Discordia told him the incident was under investigation and Sarner would need a police escort to get his belongings from his room because he had been banned from the property. Sarner said he understood. New London police also were contacted and told Stonington was looking to arrest Sarner.
Sarner also called police about 3:15 p.m. to say he had received a Facebook message that there were people at the hotel telling him to come outside and fight but he was still at the hospital. Discordia told him to set up a meeting when he got out of the hospital to get his belongings. Stamatien was sent to the hotel at 3 p.m. but Sarner’s car was gone. Police have said video shows Sarner and Orbay arriving by Lyft at 2:19 p.m. and quickly driving off in their car.
Beebe wrote that when they first encountered Sarner at the hotel, he was “extremely agitated.” Police ordered him to get his hands up as he appeared to be reaching to his waistband, and he complied. Police said Sarner's pupils were pinpointed, indicating possible narcotic use. Police put him in handcuffs but told him he was not under arrest but they were concerned he was violent and may be trying to flee. Beebe said Sarner claimed that Caldwell was the aggressor in both altercations and he was defending himself and his wife.
Beebe advised the ambulance crews they needed to transport the three to the hospital as soon as possible because he learned Caldwell's son was on the way to the hotel and police wanted to avoid a confrontation.
Two days later Beebe wrote that Sarner called asking about the investigation because he felt he was the victim. When Beebe told Sarner police were seeking a warrant for his arrest and he could turn himself in, Sarner responded with profanities and a gay slur directed at Beebe and told Beebe not to threaten him. He then hung up.
Khambhati told Stamatien that he believed the entire incident could have been handled much differently by all involved and that Caldwell's “behavior leading up to this incident was not appropriate causing the hotel to consider disciplinary action or possible termination.”
The town, meanwhile, has hired Frank Rudewicz, an attorney and former Hartford police detective, to conduct an independent fact-finding inquiry regarding how police handled the incident.
On Tuesday, Rudewicz announced that he has set up a confidential email, StoningtonPoliceInquiry@gmail.com, for people to contact him with information about the case. He also can be contacted at (617) 221-1978 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This information can be submitted anonymously or overtly. While the preference is to be able to communicate directly with those who have information, I acknowledge that some may be reluctant to do so. In any event, identities will be kept confidential to the extent possible, depending on the information. The objective is to obtain all necessary information,” he said in a statement released by the town.
Editor's Note: This version corrects the time Phlip Sarner called police to say he had received a Facebook message that there were people at the hotel telling him to come outside and fight but he was still at the hospital.
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