New York Times
August 4, 2014


Man Who Filmed Fatal Police Chokehold Is Arrested on Weapons Charges


After Recording Eric Garner Chokehold, Ramsey Orta Gets Charged With Gun Possession

By J. DAVID GOODMAN

Narcotics officers on Saturday arrested a Staten Island man whose visceral cellphone images of the forceful and ultimately deadly arrest of Eric Garner helped galvanize protests and set off a citywide debate over police practices.

The police charged the man, Ramsey Orta, with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon — a .25-caliber Norton semiautomatic handgun — that the officers said he tried to pass to a teenager on the sidewalk of a drug-prone street blocks from the spot where officers had the fatal confrontation with Mr. Garner.

The officers also arrested the teenager, Alba Lekaj, 17, charging her with possession of the gun and possession of a small amount of marijuana, the police said.

Plainclothes narcotics officers approached Mr. Orta shortly before 10 p.m. Saturday on a stretch of Central Avenue known for drug dealing, the police said, and saw him putting an object into Ms. Lekaj’s waistband. After a search, they discovered the weapon, the police said.

Mr. Orta, 22, recorded a video when officers approached Mr. Garner near the Staten Island Ferry terminal on July 17 and accused him of selling untaxed cigarettes. The recording captured the moment when one officer, Daniel Pantaleo, swung his arm around Mr. Garner’s neck from behind, pulling him to the ground with the aid of several officers. Mr. Garner, 43, died soon after.

The video also showed Mr. Garner repeatedly declaring that he could not breathe as officers held him to the ground. An autopsy found that Mr. Garner died from a combination of a chokehold and the compression of his chest during the arrest, listing poor health as a contributing factor, the office of the city medical examiner said on Friday.

The video prompted both Mayor Bill de Blasio and the police commissioner, William J. Bratton, to tell reporters in the following days that Mr. Garner appeared to be in a chokehold, a maneuver banned by the New York Police Department since 1993.

Mr. Orta’s arrest immediately provided fodder for the debate over how the authorities should respond to Mr. Garner’s death.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, who plans to travel to Washington on Monday to urge the Justice Department to start a civil rights investigation, hastily gathered a news conference in Harlem on Sunday. Mr. Sharpton said that in simultaneously prosecuting Mr. Orta and calling him as a witness in the Garner case, the Staten Island district attorney’s office would create a conflict of interest. “Let the federal government handle it,” he said, “so that there is no question about the objectivity of the investigation.”

Police union officials said Mr. Orta’s arrest showed the dangers faced by officers in that area of Staten Island. By Sunday evening, Mr. Orta had yet to be arraigned after leaving the local precinct station house for Richmond University Medical Center shortly after his arrest. The reason for his hospitalization, officials said, was asthma. He could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Lekaj was released on her own recognizance and is back home with her family. “She was just going for 10 minutes, just to buy something at the store,” her mother, who asked not to be identified by name, said in a telephone interview. She said her daughter had met Mr. Orta recently. “She thought this guy is a good person. She’s young.”

Vivian Yee contributed reporting.