New York couple charged with beating Connecticut hotel clerk in racist attack over hot water

New York couple charged with beating Connecticut hotel clerk in racist attack over hot water
Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 28, are accused of beating and hurling racial slurs at Crystal Caldwell, a 59-year-old Black hotel clerk at a Quality Inn in Mystic, Conn., on June 26, 2020. The alleged assault began with a complaint about the temperature of the water in the New York couple's room. (Stonington Police Department via AP)

MYSTIC, Conn. — A New York couple has been charged following the brutal beating of a Connecticut hotel employee, whom they allegedly attacked last month over a lack of hot water in their room, authorities said.

Philip Sarner, 39, and Emily Orbay, 28, are accused of targeting Crystal Caldwell, a 59-year-old Black hotel clerk at a Quality Inn in Mystic. According to NBC Connecticut, Sarner is charged with second- and third-degree assault and intimidation based on bigotry and bias.

Orbay faces the same intimidation charge, as well as a charge of third-degree assault. Police said the couple has no fixed address but are believed to be from Nassau County on Long Island.

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The couple, who were arrested in Brooklyn by New York police officers and U.S. marshals, were extradited back to Connecticut Monday night, the NBC affiliate reported. They were released on bond early Tuesday.

Caldwell and her attorney, John Strafaci, told the Hartford Courant that Sarner had called the front desk around 11 a.m. on June 26 to complain about the water in their room. Strafaci told the newspaper that Sarner became “belligerent” and threatened to send Orbay down to confront Caldwell.

The couple soon came down to the desk, where they were intercepted by two white employees, including the general manager, who tried to calm them down. Pushing past the employees, they struck Caldwell in the face and called her a “monkey,” her attorney said.

Stonington police officials said two 911 calls came in around 11:30 a.m. about a “physical disturbance” at the hotel. In the first call, a colleague of Caldwell’s tells a dispatcher that a guest, later identified as Sarner, is “smacking (her) desk clerk around.”

“I have a guest beating up on my desk clerk,” the woman says.

A voice in the background is heard saying, “I want him arrested, now.”

A few moments later, Sarner calls 911 to report that he was assaulted by hotel staff, claiming he was punched in the head.

“It’s on camera,” Sarner tells the dispatcher.

“While police were responding, and before their arrival, a second, much more violent, attack (on Caldwell) took place,” police officials said in a statement.

The second attack on Caldwell was recorded by a hotel security camera.

The footage begins with a female employee getting ice from a machine in an employee vending area. According to what Strafaci told the Courant, the woman was getting ice for Caldwell’s swollen eye.

A few moments later, Caldwell comes into view.

Watch the surveillance video released by police below. Warning: The video includes graphic footage.

Caldwell and the woman are talking when Sarner and Orbay appear from a hallway. As Orbay appears to say something to Caldwell, Sarner moves around the unidentified worker and punches at Caldwell’s head.

The startled female employee stumbles out of the way as both Sarner and Orbay continue hitting Caldwell, who tries to fend them off as Sarner grabs her and throws her violently to the hallway floor.

As she lies on the floor, he kicks her in the head and continues punching at her. Caldwell told police and local news media that he and Orbay continued to hurl racial slurs at her as they beat her the second time.

“When he was stomping me and the girl stopped, she said, ‘The monkey’s had enough,’” Caldwell told NBC Connecticut.

The female employee and an unidentified male employee again step between Caldwell and her assailants to prevent her from being injured further. After Caldwell returns to her feet, the woman pulls her by the arm to safety.

Stonington police officials said responding officers first spoke to Caldwell. While talking to her, they learned Sarner and Orbay were outside.

“As officers were interviewing the three involved parties, all of them requested medical attention,” a police statement said. “Ambulances were summoned to the scene and all parties were transported to local medical facilities.”

It was unclear what injuries Sarner or Orbay may have suffered, but Caldwell told the Courant she was diagnosed with a concussion. She also had injuries to her eye, face, wrist, knee and back.

A GoFundMe page Caldwell established in response to numerous offers of help has raised more than $7,000 to help with her medical bills.

Stonington police have faced criticism because Sarner and Orbay were not charged the day of the incident. The town’s first selectman, Danielle Chesebrough, announced last week that police Chief Darren Stewart, with support from the police commission, had requested an external review of the investigation.

An independent firm has been contracted to conduct the review, Chesebrough said.

“The decision to conduct an external review was made in partnership in order to ensure that our community retains the confidence in our officers that they need to carry out the important work they do every day,” she said in a statement posted on Facebook. “Findings from the review will be shared with the public.”

Police officials last week disputed allegations that Sarner and Orbay were simply allowed to get medical treatment, retrieve their belongings and return to New York without facing charges. While the suspects and the victim were being treated at the hospital, officers remained at the hotel to interview witnesses and review security footage, police officials said.

“Employees on scene at that time were having difficulty getting access to video footage and officers could only view portions of the initial altercation,” according to the police statement. “Nevertheless, from witness accounts, police had established probable cause to charge both guests in the incident.”

Hotel employees asked what to do about Sarner and Orbay’s belongings in their room.

“Staff was advised by police to restrict the keycard access to the room and call police should the two guests arrive back from the hospital,” authorities said.

Investigators, who remained at the hotel until around 12:20 p.m., were not allowed into the hospital emergency room to make arrests due to COVID-19 precautions, authorities said.

“In further effort to make contact with the suspect for an arrest, police contacted him by phone at the hospital and advised that he needed to contact police to be escorted back to the hotel to retrieve belongings because the suspects were not welcome back at the hotel that day,” the police statement said. “At that time, the officers planned to charge both suspects.”

Sarner called investigators around 3 p.m. to report he was being threatened on Facebook by Caldwell’s family, police officials said. About 20 minutes later, they called Sarner, who told them he was still at the hospital.

When the officers went back to the Quality Inn to make contact with Sarner and Orbay as they returned from the hospital, it became apparent that they’d already snuck into the parking lot, got into their vehicle and fled.

Video surveillance footage from outside the hotel showed that the couple returned to the hotel at 2:19 p.m., courtesy of a Lyft driver.

A July 2019 Street View image shows the Quality Inn in Mystic, Conn., where a Black desk clerk was beaten by two white guests June 26, 2020. A New York couple has been charged in the assault.
A July 2019 Street View image shows the Quality Inn in Mystic, Conn., where a Black desk clerk was beaten by two white guests June 26, 2020. A New York couple has been charged in the assault. (Google)

“From the time the Lyft vehicle pulls into the lot near the suspects’ car to the time the suspects are pulling onto Route 27 is less than one minute,” the police statement said. “Surveillance also revealed that during the minutes between the second assault and the police encountering the suspects, the two suspects walked to their vehicle and the female put a large bag in the trunk.

“This information was not known to officers at the scene, and officers still believed that the suspects would need the police to access their belongings in the room.”

Caldwell told the Courant she has been haunted by memories of the assault.

“I can’t sleep. I see the vision of his foot coming toward my face. I feel I could not be here right now,” Caldwell told the newspaper. “I’m a praying woman, so I pray and talk to God a lot to try to get me through this safely.”