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Couple, wanted in attack on Black woman at Mystic hotel, arrested in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Mystic — New York City police and federal marshals have apprehended a man and woman wanted in an attack on a Black woman while she was working at the Quality Inn on June 26.

Stonington police said New Yorkers Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 27, were taken into custody early Monday in Brooklyn, N.Y.

On June 26, Sarner and Orbay were staying at the Route 27 hotel when they allegedly attacked Crystal Caldwell, a front desk worker from Groton.

"We are absolutely thrilled that these animals have been taken into custody," Caldwell's attorney, M. John Strafaci, said Monday. "It's been a long time since the assault happened, and Crystal has not gotten much sleep or rest while these animals were at large or on the loose."

Police in New York had been looking for Sarner and Orbay for more than two weeks. Police had obtained warrants charging the pair with intimidation based on bigotry and bias, Connecticut's hate crime statute. Sarner was also charged with second-degree assault and both were charged with third-degree assault.

Police were having trouble locating the couple, who appeared to have no permanent address. They were believed to have been living on Long Island.

According to Caldwell, Sarner called down to the front desk to complain that the hot water in their room was not working. Caldwell offered to have someone come take a look or to move them to a new room, to which Sarner allegedly replied, "I'm going to come down there and kick your (expletive)."

Shortly after, Sarner came down to the lobby, where he allegedly bypassed a general manager and housekeeping manager to lunge at Caldwell, pummeling her in the head.

Caldwell took refuge in the employee break room but eventually wandered into the hallway to find some ice for her rapidly swelling head. That's when Caldwell and Orbay attacked again, she said.

Video surveillance footage from the hotel, released by Strafaci, shows a white man pushing, punching and kicking Caldwell. She suffered a concussion and injuries to her face, eye, head, ribs, back and wrist.

The 59-year-old said that while she was beaten, the man attacking her called her an "old monkey" and said, "Your life doesn't matter."

'The joy of justice'

Sitting in her attorney's office Monday afternoon, Caldwell, wearing sunglasses indoors because she is still sensitive to light due to her concussion, said she's been in pain since the attack.

Her wrist, she said, is starting to heal, but she still wears a brace most of the time. Her back, ribs and head still ache, and on Monday she was headed to an orthopedist to check on an injury to her spine. Doctors are also worried about injuries to her internal organs, including her lungs, caused by the repeated kicks she endured.

With Monday's arrests, she said she was feeling "the joy of justice" and relieved to know that her attackers are in custody.

"It feels great, I definitely want to see them fully prosecuted," she said, adding that she's been worried the pair would attack someone else.

"I want to go to their arraignments and to look at them one more time — I think it will ease my mind once I actually see them handcuffed," she said.

Though she is happy to know her alleged attackers are off the streets, she said it hurts her to know how long they were free after the incident.

"It's sad that it took that long, it's sad that (police) didn't take it serious from the beginning and that does disappoint me," she said.

Caldwell was joined at her attorney's office by her nephew, Wayne Rawls, and her son, Jammel Caldwell, 27, of New London.

Her son said the attack traumatized him. He said he's having trouble sleeping and keeps replaying what happened to his mother in his mind.

"I was raised with so much love," he said. "I don't know why this happened to her."

Stonington detective praised

After police arrived at the Quality Inn on June 26, Caldwell was taken to Pequot Health Center for treatment and the alleged attackers were taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London. They were allowed to leave the hospital, retrieve their belongings from the hotel and head back to New York. Police have been criticized, including at public rallies, for not detaining the pair.

On Monday, Caldwell said she and her family are pleased with the work of Detective Greg Howard, whom Caldwell called her "guardian angel."

Strafaci also thanked Howard, but said his work "doesn't excuse what happened in those four days before he took over" and thinks the police made a lot of mistakes.

"I think that the chief and the captain owe Crystal a public apology for what happened," he said, referring to Stonington Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and Capt. Todd Olson.

Caldwell said an apology would "be a start." She also hopes Stonington officers will be retrained.

Strafaci said his office had a video conference on Zoom Sunday with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., state Rep. Anthony Nolan, state Rep. Kate Rotella, Stonington First Selectwoman Danielle Cheseborough and several other community leaders to discuss their concerns about not only what happened to Caldwell, but what's happening next.

"I understand that it was a lot of work to track these people down in New York and get them," said Strafaci. "That just underscores that when you have people from out of state who commit crimes in Connecticut, you can't allow them to leave the state, because it becomes incredibly difficult to get them back to Connecticut."

The town of Stonington has hired an independent investigator to review how police handled the investigation.

In a statement released Monday morning, Olson said Sarner and Orbay will remain in custody in New York until they are extradited to Connecticut to face charges. On Monday night, Strafaci said the two had waived extradition and are expected to be arraigned in New London Superior Court Tuesday morning. 

Olson did not respond to requests for comment about exactly where and when Sarner and Orbay were taken into custody.

Records show Sarner 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.

Blumenthal speaks out

Blumenthal said the Zoom conference — which lasted nearly two hours Sunday — was an "important and valuable" way to continue his conversation with community members after attending a rally in support of Caldwell and her family last week.

"I was so deeply repulsed — like anyone who saw that video — by this incident, my stomach turned as I watched that video," he said. "I have been in touch extensively with community leaders in New London and Stonington and am deeply impressed by the outpouring of support for Crystal Caldwell."

The senator said he hopes to help justice be served.

"These acts of hatred and bigotry are vile and vicious and absolutely repugnant to American ideals," he said. "They should be prosecuted vigorously and fairly."

Blumenthal said that if the federal government needs to get involved, he will help in any way he can.

t.hartz@theday.com

 

 

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