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Man Who Filmed Eric Garner's Death Held on $75K Bail After Weapons Arrest

By Nicholas Rizzi | August 4, 2014 4:26pm
Eric Garner Arrest
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New York Daily News

TOMPKINSVILLE — A man who filmed an NYPD officer using a fatal chokehold on Staten Islander Eric Garner was ordered held on $75,000 bond at his arraignment Monday for a weapons possession charge that his family has called a retaliatory setup by police.

Ramsey Orta, 22, whom the Daily News credited for taking the video of Garner's fatal headlock during an arrest for selling illegal cigarettes, was charged Saturday with passing a gun to a woman on a Staten Island street.

He went before Judge Mario Mattei on Monday, a day after his co-defendant was arraigned, in a delay that sources blamed on Orta suffering an asthma attack after his arrest. 

Relatives said they believe Orta was set up by officers, adding that police had been following him ever since he filmed Garner's death.

"It's funny how all of a sudden he's arrested," Orta's mother Emily Mercado, 41, said outside her Van Duzer Street home, a block from where Garner was arrested. "The cops have been trying to get him."

Mercado said her son didn't own a gun, and added that police followed her son day and night and they even pointed spotlights into their windows one morning around 4 a.m.

"They've been following him," she said. "They've been looking for him."

Orta's video of Garner being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes shows plain-clothes officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapping his arm around Garner's neck. Garner is heard on the video saying "I can't breathe" at least 11 times.

The footage brought national attention to the case and Orta was hailed as a hero by the Rev. Al Sharpton during Garner's funeral.

Orta was arrested on Saturday evening — a day after Garner's death was ruled a homicide by the city's medical examiner after a plain-clothes officer said he saw Orta put a gun into the waistband of Alba Lekaj, 17, in front of the Hotel Richmond at 71 Central Ave., police said.

The officer claimed the pair had gone together into the hotel, a known drug dealing location, and came back out together. The officer said he saw Orta slip the .25-caliber Norton handgun into Lekaj's waistband after police approached him to talk.

The two were arrested on the spot on weapons possession charges. Lekaj also had a Ziploc bag full of marijuana in her bra and was charged with possession, police said.

Lekaj was arraigned and released on Sunday, a spokesman for Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan said.

Orta has previously been arrested 25 times for assault, possession of stolen property and of marijuana, according to the NYPD.

He was most recently arrested on July 13 after he punched a man collecting bottles outside his home several times in the face, according to court documents.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has decried Garner's death, and officer Pantaleo was stripped of his gun and badge after the death. Pantaleo had not been charged with a crime as of Monday.

On Saturday, Garner's widow called for prosecutors to get "justice" for her husband's death.

"I met with the prosecutors and I feel like I did the right thing by doing that and I just want them to do the right thing and get justice for my husband," Esaw Garner said during a press conference Saturday.

"It's been really hard. I've been trying to be strong but it's really hard."

Requests for comment on Mercado's claims were not immediately returned by the NYPD.