NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The man who took video of Eric Garner, who died in custody after being put in a chokehold by police, appeared in court on gun charges Monday.
The arraignment for Ramsey Orta, 22, was held after he was released from Richmond University Medical Center, where he was being treated for a panic attack, WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reported.
Orta pleaded not guilty two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and is being held on $75,000 cash bail, 1010 WINS’ Carol D’Auria reported. The bail was set in part due to what a judge called Orta’s “significant” record that included two felony convictions.
As CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes reported, Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, left the courthouse in tears following the arraignment.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s obvious he was set up. Who cannot see that?”
Orta was arrested Saturday night on Staten Island, a few blocks from where officers confronted Garner on July 17.
Around 9:45 p.m. Saturday, police said plainclothes officers from a Staten Island narcotics unit saw Orta stuff a silver-colored, .25-caliber handgun into a 17-year-old female companion’s waistband as they were leaving the Hotel Richmond single-room occupancy facility.
Police called the location on Central Avenue, a “known drug prone location.”
The unloaded semi-automatic weapon recovered was reported stolen in Michigan in 2007, police said. Officers charged the 17-year-old – identified as Alba Lekaj – with criminal possession of a weapon and unlawful possession of marijuana.
Orta’s arrest came a day after the New York City Medical Examiner’s office ruled Garner’s death a homicide caused by the officer’s chokehold, as well as the compression of his chest and prone positioning “during physical restraint by police.”
Orta’s mother, Emily Mercado, said police have been following her son ever since he recorded Garner’s arrest.
“They’ve been following him,” she said. “They’ve been sitting in front of my house. They put spot lights in my window.”
Ortiz also said police have been harassing him.
“It’s payback for him exposing what they did to Eric Garner and the bad things that they were doing,” she said.
Ortiz said her husband believed police were trying to set him up.
“He called me and said, ‘babe, hurry up and come over here. They’re trying to pin something on me,'” she said. “The day after they declare it a homicide, you find someone next to him with a gun, and you saw him pass it off? Out in public when he knows he’s in the public spotlight? It makes no sense.”
Orta himself spoke with reporters on the phone from the courthouse, and insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“She had the gun. They didn’t find nothing on me. They didn’t find nothing,” Orta said.
Lekaj claimed she had no idea what was going on.
“Wrong time, wrong place — got that? I was at the wrong time at wrong place,” she told Grymes as she stood in her doorway. “No record — that’s all I can tell you. Perfect record up until now.”
Sources told 1010 WINS that Orta said during his arrest, “You’re mad because I filmed your boy.” The NYPD said officers did not know he was the same person until he said that.
After he was taken into custody, police said Orta was brought to the hospital due to problems with asthma and was then retained for a psychiatric evaluation, CBS 2’s Diane Macedo reported.
Mercado said her son was on suicide watch.
NYPD sources told CBS 2 they did know who Orta was because of his criminal background. But they said there was no indication that police were sitting on his house, following him or targeting him.
Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch described the encounter between Garner and police as “a tragedy” but said Orta’s arrest “only underscores the dangers that brought police officers to respond to a chronic crime condition” in Staten Island’s Tompkinsville community.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who called Orta to the lectern at Garner’s funeral and said the city should “thank God” he was there to record video “when the police and EMS failed us,” called the arrest irrelevant.
“No one is questioning the validity of the tape and the medical examiner has validated it,” Sharpton said Sunday.
Sharpton and Garner’s widow, Esaw Garner, have called for Staten Island prosecutors to charge the officers involved in his death or turn the case over to federal authorities.
The officer who placed Garner in the chokehold was stripped of his gun and badge pending the investigation. Another officer was placed on desk duty. Two paramedics and two emergency medical technicians were suspended without pay.
Orta echoed the call for arrest in Garner’s death after hearing the medical examiner’s ruling Friday.
“I knew that was the cause because I saw it,” he said. “Now somebody should get charged.”
Police said Orta had a previous weapon conviction that prohibited him from possessing a firearm.
He is due in court this month on robbery charges stemming from a May arrest and an assault charge from an arrest three days before Garner’s death, according to court records.
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