Wall Street Journal
August 4, 2014

 

Man Who Shot Eric Garner Chokehold Video Arrested

Ramsey Orta Was Brought Into Custody Saturday Night on Gun Charges

By Pervaiz Shallwani

The man who shot video of a police officer using an apparent chokehold on a suspect who later died was arrested on gun charges over the weekend, a law-enforcement official said.

Ramsey Orta, 22 years old, was charged by the New York Police Department with criminal possession of a weapon and criminal possession of a weapon with a previous conviction, police said.

Alba Lekaj, 17, a woman Mr. Orta was with, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and marijuana possession.

Mr. Orta told the officers who were processing him that "you're only mad because I filmed your boy," the official said, adding that police didn't make the connection until after the suspect made the statement.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Sunday in Harlem that the arrest of Mr. Orta "has no bearing at all on the case, or the movement for justice regarding Eric Garner. "

"He's not an eye witness—his tape is," Mr. Sharpton said of Mr. Orta.

Ms. Lekaj was arraigned Sunday and released on her own recognizance; Mr. Orta was awaiting arraignment Sunday night. Neither could be reached for comment. Mr. Orta told police he has asthma and was taken to a hospital for precaution, the official said.

It was unclear whether either suspect has retained an attorney.

The law-enforcement official said Mr. Orta is known by the street name "Sparks" and has a prior record going back to 2009, including criminal trespass, assault and drug possession.

Most recently, he was charged in May with robbery with a box cutter, the official said. In June 2013, Mr. Orta was charged with gun possession after he allegedly threatened to kill someone, the official said.

Defense attorney Matthew Zuntag, who is representing Mr. Orta in the May box-cutter-robbery case, didn't return calls for comment Sunday.

Mr. Orta shot the roughly three-minute video in which Eric Garner, 43, could be seen arguing with police officers trying to arrest him in Staten Island for allegedly selling single untaxed cigarettes on July 17.

In the video, an officer can be seen putting an apparent chokehold on Mr. Garner before bringing him to the ground. Mr. Garner can be heard complaining that he can't breathe.

The video was obtained by the New York Daily News and appeared later that evening on newspaper's website.

Mr. Orta was arrested just before 10 p.m. Saturday after New York Police Department narcotics officers noticed him and Ms. Lekaj going into a hotel that is a known drug location, the official said.

The two were seen by officers emerging from the hotel moments later, a standard sign used by officers to indicate that they may have been involved in a drug sale, the official said.

As plainclothes officers, displaying their badges, approached the two, they saw Mr. Orta slip an object into the woman's waistband, the official said. When the officers apprehended Mr. Orta and Ms. Lekaj, they saw a semiautomatic handgun in the woman's waistband "in plain sight," the official said.

Police determined the gun, a loaded .25 caliber Norton semiautomatic handgun, was reported stolen in Michigan in 2007.

Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents NYPD officers, said Mr. Orta's arrest "underscores the dangers that brought police officers to respond to a chronic crime condition in that community."

"Sadly, in the effort to keep neighborhoods like Tompkinsville safe, a tragedy occurred," Mr. Lynch said in a statement. "But that doesn't change the fact that police officers routinely risk their lives for the benefit of the community and that they have earned their support and understanding."

—Mara Gay and Yoni Bashan contributed to this article.

Write to Pervaiz Shallwani at pervaiz.shallwani@wsj.com