A New York couple accused of assaulting a Black woman in a racially motivated attack while she was working at a Mystic hotel in late June have been taken into custody in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Stonington police said Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 27, were each arrested early Monday morning and charged as fugitives from justice after a near two-week search. Sarner and Orbay, each listed as former residents of Nassau County, N.Y., "will remain in custody until extradited from New York," police said in a press release.
Sarner and Orbay are both facing charges of third-degree assault and intimidation based on bigotry and bias, Connecticut's statute for hate crimes. Sarner is also facing one count of second-degree assault.
It was not immediately clear whether Sarner or Orbay would waive their right to an extradition hearing.
The U.S. Marshals Service and New York City Police Department took the pair into custody during the early morning hours, bringing to an end a search that began when the couple fled following an assault at the Quality Inn Mystic on Whitehall Avenue that left 59-year-old Chrystal Caldwell of Groton injured.
Officers were called to the Whitehall Avenue hotel shortly before noon on June 26 after receiving two 911 calls reporting an assault of a hotel worker, later identified as Caldwell. While officers were on their way to the hotel, the police said a second, more violent attack occurred. Caldwell has maintained that the couple threatened extreme violence and made several degrading statements toward her, including calling her an "old monkey" and telling her that her life doesn't matter.
The police met Caldwell and hotel staff in the parking lot, at which time officers also spoke with Sarner and Orbay. Police said all three complained of injuries, and Caldwell was taken to Pequot Health Center while Sarner and Orbay were taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London.
Officers did not wait with the pair at L+M, which police said was due in part to concerns about and confusion over COVID-19 procedures, and surveillance video later showed the suspects arrive back at the hotel in a Lyft before immediately getting into their car and leaving. It took the suspects less than a minute to get in their car, and the police said they did not retrieve their belongings from inside the hotel.
Stonington police continued to investigate and on July 1, the department obtained warrants for both Sarner and Orbay from the New London State's Attorney. The warrant was later updated to include the bias and bigotry charges.
The department has received heavy criticism of its handling of the investigation. Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said Monday that concerns over transparency led Police Chief J. Darren Stewart and members of the Board of Police Commissioners to request an independent, third-party review.
The town announced Friday that it had hired an independent consultant, attorney Frank E. Rudewicz of the Boston-based legal firm Blum Shapiro, to begin an investigation into the department's handling of the incident and review both its response and the department's policies.
"Chief Stewart and (Commission Chairman) Henri Gourd have been very proactive and supportive of this review," Chesebrough said. "I think, as far as bringing a request to the town, they know how important community trust is and this is an effort to enhance transparency."
Under terms of the contract, the town will pay for services "not to exceed $15,000" that will include a formalized review and report, which will be made public, for both the incident and other department policies, including use of force and police intervention.
The town is still working with Rudewicz to establish a timeline for the investigation, Chesebrough said. Rudewicz was expected to provide an email address later this week to allow for the public to reach out with concerns or comments.
"This is very much a time-sensitive matter and I expect there will be an aggressive timeline," Chesebrough said. "We need to make sure this doesn't continue to drag on, but we want to make sure there is a thorough, complete review that will help identify any areas where maybe things could be done more efficiently."