Twenty-three-year-old Ramsey Orta, who taped NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo putting Staten Island man Eric Garner in a fatal chokehold last summer, made bail on Wednesday after the MDMA he allegedly sold to an undercover police officer last month was tested, and deemed fake.
Orta's June 30th arrest, at the corner of East 6th Street and Avenue D in Alphabet City, marks the third time the cell-phone videographer has been arrested since his footage sparked global condemnation of the NYPD. First in August for possession of a firearm, and again in February for allegedly selling drugs to undercover officers.
The February arrest landed Orta on Rikers for two months, while his family and friends crowdsourced the full $16,250 necessary for bail. Even after he posted bail, Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan attempted to block Orta's release by requesting a bail source hearing.
"He tells me that he's constantly stalked by police who say that he 'fits the description,'" Orta's lawyer William Aronin told us this morning. "He always feels harassed."
Orta was initially charged with felony drug sale and possession for the June 30th incident, and was held at Rikers on $15,000 bond, or $7,500 cash. However, a lab test revealed that the so-called MDMA was actually a benign substance, that, according to Aronin, is not even illegal in New York State.
As a result, Orta's lawyers were able to negotiate the bail down to $8,000 bond, $1,300 cash, which Orta's family and friends could manage. The Staten Island Advance reports that Orta is scheduled to appear in court on September 8th, on a new set of charges related to the incident. These include, "an offense related to imitation controlled substances, as well as petit larceny, fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and fraudulent accosting, all misdemeanors."
Aronin is incredulous about these new charges which, at the end of the day, are punishment for a $40 sale of dummy drugs (a transaction that Orta himself denies). "This is not the way cases normally go," he said. "Even though Orta wasn't selling drugs, they managed to find five misdemeanor charges. They're clearly coming down on this guy."
More immediately pressing than the "MDMA" court date, is a Staten Island court date scheduled for July 29th, related to Orta's August 2nd, 2014 arrest for gun possession—two weeks after Garner's death, and one day after that death was ruled a homicide.
"This is our number one priority," Aronin said. "There's something wrong here. This is retaliation, and we plan to show that to the jury."