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Police pursue hate crime charges in Mystic attack

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Stonington — Police are pursuing hate crime charges against a New York couple who allegedly beat a Black woman while she was working at the Quality Inn in Mystic two weeks ago.

The Office of the State's Attorney on Friday issued new warrants for Philip Sarner, 39 and Emily Orbay, 28, of New York, charging both with intimidation based on bigotry or bias and adding a third-degree assault charge for Sarner.

Police first obtained warrants for the pair on July 1, charging Sarner with second-degree assault and Orbay with third-degree assault.

Sarner and Orbay, who are both white, allegedly attacked 59-year-old Crystal Caldwell at the Quality Inn on the morning of June 26. The couple was staying at the hotel, where Caldwell works part time at the front desk.

Sarner allegedly called the desk to complain about an issue with hot water in their room and then went downstairs to the desk where he confronted Caldwell, pummeling her in the head, she said.

Shortly after, Caldwell was assaulted a second time in a hotel hallway while trying to get ice for her swelling head and face. A surveillance video from the hotel released by Caldwell's lawyer, M. John Strafaci, shows a man punching, stomping and body-slamming Caldwell to the floor. She suffered a concussion and injuries to her eye, face, head, wrist, ribs and back, she said.

When reached by phone Friday, Michael Regan, state's attorney for the New London Judicial District, declined to comment on why the new charges were added. Police included information seeking to charge the couple with intimidation based on bigotry and bias in the first set of warrants, but the state's attorney's office did not include the charge in the original warrants. Regan also declined to comment on why they weren't signed off on originally.

In a news release Friday, Stonington police Capt. Todd Olson said that over the course of the investigation, police "were able to locate past incident information" that led the State's Attorney's Office to issue the new warrants.

Police have faced scrutiny over their handling of the incident after the alleged assailants were allowed to leave the state without being charged after being treated at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London.

Olson said police were told they should not come to the hospital due to COVID-19 precautions, and officers intended to apprehend the couple after Sarner and Orbay were released from the hospital and returned to the hotel to collect their belongings.

In a statement issued Monday, L+M spokeswoman Fiona Phelan said 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. She declined to comment on the exact conversation that took place between Stonington police and hospital staff on June 26.

Strafaci said that he, Caldwell and her family have been working closely with Detective Greg Howard of the Stonington Police Department and the State's Attorney's Office, providing further information including Facebook messages sent to members of Caldwell's family calling them racial slurs, including "monkey."

Caldwell said that while she was being attacked, the man attacking her called her an "old monkey" and told her "your life doesn't matter."

Strafaci said Friday he was happy that the new warrants had been issued. "It's always been our intention and claim that racial bias and intimidation was a part of this crime and we're happy that the State's Attorney's Office was able to obtain these arrest warrants."

"We still remain concerned that these dangerous individuals have not been taken into custody," he said. "If Stonington Police had taken this seriously on June 26 when it happened and had not allowed these individuals to leave the hospital and go back to the Quality Inn where they were able to get their belongings and escape back to New York, these individuals would have been arrested by now."

Strafaci said that he and Caldwell were happy with the progress they've made with Detective Howard, but thinks as a whole, the Stonington Police Department needs to address its failures "in allowing these individuals to escape justice."

Police said they do not have permanent addresses for Sarner and Orbay, who are believed to reside in Nassau County on Long Island.

Public records indicate that Sarner has an extensive criminal record and has served prison sentences in New York.

Sarner was released on parole from Attica Correctional Facility on Nov. 29, 2019, according to records from the New York Department of Corrections. He served just under two years for third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and first-degree criminal contempt, for which he was sentenced a maximum sentence of three years, records show.

Records show Sarner also served just over three years in Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, N.Y. He was sentenced to a maximum of four years for attempted aggravated criminal contempt and third-degree criminal mischief. He was released in June 2012.

Sarner also served time in Franklin Correctional Facility in Malone, N.Y., for fourth-degree larceny, second-degree attempted forgery and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. His sentence carried a maximum of four years. He served just under two years and was released in October 2004, records show.

Reached by The Day by text message Monday, Sarner refused to comment.

Olson said the Stonington Police Department is working with other law enforcement agencies to locate and apprehend Sarner and Orbay. Police are asking anyone with information on the whereabouts of the suspects to call their local police department or Stonington police at (860) 599-4411.

Day Staff Writer Joe Wojtas contributed to this report. 

t.hartz@theday.com

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