On July 17, 22-year-old Ramsey Orta filmed Staten Island police officers tackling his friend Eric Garner to the ground , watching as officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped Garner’s neck in a chokehold. The New York City Medical Examiner ruled on Friday, August 1 that Garner’s death was a homicide, caused primarily by compression of his neck and chest, exacerbated by his prone position as well as asthma, obesity and heart disease.
As Garner’s death caused worldwide outrage, Orta told Time he faced increased harassment from the police. On Saturday night, he was arrested by plainclothes narcotics officers and charged with gun possession.
The New York Times reports that officers approached Orta and a 17-year-old girl on “a stretch of Central Avenue known for drug dealing,” after watching them leave a hotel they say is known for drug activity, and watched as he put an object in the girl’s waistband. They searched her and found a .25-caliber handgun. He’s being charged with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon; the teenager is also facing gun possession as well as marijuana possession charges.
Orta has a number of previous arrests, and three other criminal cases pending against him. Court records show he’s awaiting trial for a May incident in which he’s accused of robbery, menacing, harasssment and criminal possession of a controlled substance. But the timing of his latest arrest struck many as suspicious. His wife, Chrissie Ortiz, told the Staten Island Advance, “It’s obvious. Once they rule this a homicide, now you all of a sudden find something on him? Come on, let’s be realistic. Even the dumbest criminal would know not to be doing something like that outside. So the whole story doesn’t fit at all.” In a press conference Sunday, Reverend Al Sharpton called for federal investigators to take over the Garner investigation, saying that Orta’s arrest could create a conflict of interest for the Staten Island District Attorney.
For the president of the city’s largest police union, though, Orta’s arrest is just another opportunity for him to double down on claims that Garner’s death is, really, anybody’s fault but the NYPD’s.
Patrick Lynch is president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest union in the city representing police officers. After the medical examiner’s report was released classifying Garner’s death as a homicide, he issued a press release arguing that the fault was largely Garner’s, for “resisting arrest.” The full statement read:
Our sympathies and prayers go out to the family and friends of Mr. Garner. Police Officers don’t start their days expecting or wanting something like this to occur in the performance of their duties. The ME’s report indicates that Mr. Garner was a man with serious health problems so there will have to be a complete and thorough analysis of all the factors that played a part in this tragedy. We believe, however, that if he had not resisted the lawful order of the police officers placing him under arrest, this tragedy would not have occurred. The NYC PBA stands firmly in support of all police officers who are put in these difficult circumstances”
His comments on the Orta case were even less diplomatic. On Sunday, he issued another release, calling Orta a “criminal” who “stands to benefit” by smearing the good name of police officers.
“The arrest of Ramsey Orta for criminal possession of a firearm only underscores the dangers that brought police officers to respond to a chronic crime condition in that community,” he wrote. “It is criminals like Mr. Orta who carry illegal firearms who stand to benefit the most by demonizing the good work of police officers. Sadly, in the effort to keep neighborhoods like Tompkinsville safe, a tragedy occurred. 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.”
Lynch has previously argued that citizen videos of NYPD arrests are always misleading, writing, “Videotapes never present all of the facts in a situation. They never capture the criminal act or offense that brings police action to the scene. They present an isolated period of a police interaction but never the entire scenario.”
Orta was taken to the hospital shortly after his arrest. Police officials told the Times the cause of his medical distress was asthma. He’s expected to be arraigned today.