While a Grand Jury in Staten Island failed on Wednesday to indict the NYPD officer responsible for preforming the prohibited choke-hold technique that contributed to Eric Garner’s death, prosecutors have managed to indict one individual involved in the Garner case, the young man who filmed the fatal encounter. Ramsey Orta, the 22-year-old Staten Island resident who is responsible for filming the now viral video that captured the encounter between Garner and members of the NYPD was indicted and charged by a Staten Island grand jury back in August on charges which include felony weapons possession and criminal firearms possession. However, Orta has maintained his innocence and claimed that the indictment against him is a form of payback from the NYPD for his role in filming the police misconduct surrounding Garner’s arrest.
Orta was initially arrested on Staten Island by undercover narcotics with the NYPD on August 2, a few weeks after he filmed the altercation between Garner and members of the NYPD including Pantaleo that led to Garner’s death. Police claim that he slipped an unloaded .25 caliber handgun into the waistband of 17-year-old Alba Lekaj on the evening of August 2 when the pair was confronted by plainclothes officers outside the Hotel Richmond single room occupancy facility. Police stated that the area was a “known drug prone area” and that Orta and Lekaj were seen entering the premises and exiting moments later, a claim which Orta denied bluntly with a matter-of-fact statement, “I have a wife” he said. Orta’s cousin Michelle Lassends told reporters that her cousin is not a drug dealer “Yes he hangs out with his friends, but he does not sell drugs” she said.
Orta has stated that he is innocent and the charges against him are a form of payback orchestrated by the NYPD in retaliation him filming Eric Garner’s arrest because it features clear instances of police misconduct which could result in repercussions felt by the department. Orta cites incriminating statements he claims were made by the officer who searched and arrested him at the scene on August 2, mere blocks away from where Garner lost his life, “He told me clearly himself that karma is a b*** and what goes around comes around” Orta said. His arrest comes just one day after the release of an autopsy report that labeled Garner’s death a homicide which was caused by restrictions to the asthmatic man’s lungs and airway while he was subdued on the sidewalk.
Orta’s family has also maintained his innocence throughout the grand jury indictment and proceedings, with his wife, Chrissie Orta,has reinforced her husband’s claim that the indictment was a form of payback administered by the NYPD for his role in filming Garner’s arrest. “It’s obvious what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to shut him up.” Mrs. Orta also stated that her husband called her on August 2 prior to being arrested and made comments which indicated that he feared he was being set up, “He called me and said ‘babe, hurry up and get over here, they’re trying to pin something on me’” she said. Orta’s mother claimed that both her and her son had been stalked and harassed by the NYPD almost constantly since he filmed Garner’s arrest and she alleged that police officers equipped with search lights were stationed in front of her house.
The Grand Jury, however, rejected Orta’s claim that his indictment was the product of NYPD style payback for his role in filming Eric Garner’s arrest and charged him with a third degree felony of criminal weapons possession and criminal firearm possession. Despite Orta’s assertion that he was set up, prosecutors and the jurors referenced his extensive rap sheet to raise questions about his credibility and trustworthiness as an individual. According to a New York Post article cited in the Staten Island Advance, Orta has been arrested multiple times since 2009, including assault charges in May of 2009 and August of 2012, as well as a case in June of 2013 in which he is accused of threatening a woman by brandishing a handgun. “He’s only 22 years old yet has two felony convictions and six misdemeanor convictions as an adult” stated Assistant District Attorney Cariale.
In contrast, the grand jury in the Eric Garner case deemed that there was no probable cause or concrete evidence to prove that Pantaleo had committed a crime, despite the presence of a video which featured Pantaleo using a prohibited choke-hold technique to pin Garner on the ground as the asthmatic man repeatedly called out the words “I can’t breathe.” The choke-hold technique was listed in Garner’s autopsy report as a primary factor that contributed to his death, which was classified as a homicide due to the “constrictions of the throat and chest” caused by the actions of Pantaleo and other NYPD officers.
The timing of Orta’s indictment, which came mere weeks after he filmed Eric Garner’s last moments and one day after an autopsy report declared Garner’s death a homicide due to the actions of officers caught on camera, is seen by some as an eerie coincidence which could potentially suggest the possibility of an NYPD sanctioned style of payback for Orta’s participation in the grand jury proceedings and role in capturing the altercation between officers and Garner on tape. However, it is extremely rare for a grand jury to return indictments, except in cases where the person facing high-profile charges is a police officer or high-ranking member of a law enforcement agency. In 2012, grand juries failed to return indictments in a mere 11 cases of the 162,000 prosecuted by U.S attorneys. In contrast, grand juries returned only one conviction out of 81 reviewed cases involving officer related shootings in Dallas between 2008 and 2012.
By: Charles Stephen Craun
Photo courtesy of Fibonacci Blue-Flickr License
Photo courtesy of Ryan Sorensen-Flickr License