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RUSSELL CROWE ACCUSED OF ASSAULT WITH HOTEL PHONE

By MICHAEL WILSON and ANDREW JACOBS

The New York Times
6/7/05


Russell Crowe, the actor with a combustible mix of temper, bad-boy image and a new film to promote, was arrested in a SoHo hotel yesterday morning after striking a desk clerk with a telephone because he could not get a call through to his wife in Australia, the police said.

The attack occurred shortly after 4 a.m. in the lobby of the Mercer Hotel, the police said. Mr. Crowe was staying in a $3,000-a-night suite, and, unable to place a call to his wife, went to the lobby and threw the telephone at an employee behind the desk, cutting him below the right eye, the police said.

The police were called, statements were taken, handcuffs were closed upon celebrity wrists, and a media frenzy washed into Lower Manhattan, with reporters on the street and hovering in helicopters outside the hotel and the First Precinct station house until Mr. Crowe's court appearance at noon.

The injured employee was identified as Nestor Estrada, 28, who lives in a building with a broken buzzer and peeling paint on Metropolitan Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The cut under his eye did not require stitches, said Paul J. Browne, a police spokesman. The police arrived at the hotel at 4:21 a.m. and found Mr. Crowe, 41, both sober and cooperative, Mr. Browne said. He was taken the short distance to the station house in TriBeCa and placed in a holding cell at 5:09 a.m., the police said. He was the precinct's sole prisoner.

A little over six hours later - enough time for dozens of reporters and photographers to descend upon the station house - Mr. Crowe, wearing stubble, aviator sunglasses and a jacket bearing the name of his new film, "Cinderella Man," was hustled into a police S.U.V., which raced away with a patrol car and two police scooters in tow, their lights and sirens running.

The escort was not a courtesy to the actor, but a precaution against trailing photographers and reporters who might have posed a safety risk, Mr. Browne said.

At Manhattan Criminal Court, Mr. Crowe was taken directly to a courtroom, bypassing the holding cells at the request of the police, said a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney. Mr. Crowe's fellow defendants included a man accused of stabbing another man near the Port Authority Bus Terminal and a man charged with attempted sexual assault in Harlem. Mr. Crowe sat expressionless until his moment came to approach the bench, with his lawyer, Gerald B. Lefcourt, by his side.
He was charged with two felonies, assault in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon - the telephone - in the fourth degree, according to Chad Sjoquist, an assistant district attorney. The penalty for assault, the more serious of the two charges, is a maximum of seven years.

"We have a strong case," Mr. Sjoquist said. "This defendant is charged with hitting an employee of a hotel in the face with a telephone. Defendant admitted throwing the phone." He added that there were witnesses, and asked that bail be set at $5,000.

For the defense, Mr. Lefcourt explained that Mr. Crowe had made numerous attempts to get a call through to Australia to speak to his wife, Danielle Spencer. "He's a very, very charitable, decent human being with an excellent background," Mr. Lefcourt said.

Judge Martin Murphy released Mr. Crowe on his own recognizance.
With that, Mr. Crowe put on his sunglasses and walked out of the room with reporters trailing behind him. He did not say a word as he stepped into a black G.M.C. Denali that sped away.

A short time later, what appeared to be the same vehicle returned to the hotel and idled on the cobblestones as a man with a gray ponytail hurriedly collected several pieces of luggage, including a trunk and some dry cleaning on hangers, stacked them in the back, and drove off.

Mr. Crowe's publicist, Robin Baum, released a statement denying that the actor had hit anyone: "After asking the front desk several times to replace a faulty phone in his room - and getting only attitude from the clerk on duty - Crowe brought the phone down to the front desk in an effort to address the situation in person. Words were exchanged and Crowe wound up throwing the phone against the wall. He regrets that he lost his temper, but at no time did he assault anyone or touch any hotel employee."

The criminal complaint stated that Mr. Crowe "admitted that he picked up the phone and threw it at informant because he was angry."


Colin Moynihan, William K. Rashbaum and Robin Shulman contributed reporting for this article.