Originally published December 9 2014
No charges for NYPD officer who choked man to death, but bystander who filmed it charged with felony
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) A Staten Island grand jury voted this week not to indict a New York City police officer who put Eric Garner in a chokehold shortly before he died on the street during an attempt to arrest him earlier this summer.
However, a different grand jury was less deferential to the man who filmed NYC police arresting Garner -- Ramsey Orta. He was indicted on a weapons charge stemming from an Aug. 2 arrest which he testified was made in retaliation for his filming of NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo during the Garner incident July 17.
On the day of his death, Garner, 43, had broken up a fight and some reports have suggested that police were responding to that when they noticed Garner in the area. In the previous weeks and months, police had arrested Garner for selling "loosies" -- single cigarettes on the black market, and cigarettes untouched by New York's high tobacco taxes (the highest in the country). Garner was arrested for selling them in March and, at the time of his death, had three total charges pending. The New York Daily News reported in August that NYPD Chief of Department Philip Banks, who is African American, ordered the crackdown on the sale of loosies.
As for Orta, police alleged that he slipped a .25 caliber handgun into a teen accomplice's waistband, 17-year-old Alba Lekaj, outside a New York hotel. During his grand jury testimony, Orta said he believes that the charges were invented by police as retaliation for his role in documenting Garner's death, The Huffington Post reported.
The separate grand jury, however, rejected his contention and proceeded to charge him with single felony counts of third-degree criminal weapon possession and criminal firearm possession.
Retaliation by police?
But, as SILive.com reported, the weapons indictment was selective:
A spokesman for District Attorney Daniel Donovan said the grand jury declined to indict Ms. Lekaj, a Tompkinsville resident, on gun charges. She was indicted for misdemeanor marijuana possession and her case will be returned to Stapleton Criminal Court.
As HuffPo further reported, in Garner's case, grand jurors determined that there was not enough evidence or probable cause to determine that Pantaleo had committed a crime, though a medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide, in part from the chokehold -- a restraining tactic that was banned by the department in 1993.
The news site also noted:
The use of grand juries in high-profile police killings has attracted increasing scrutiny after such juries declined to indict both Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri this summer, and now Pantaleo.
While the famous saying goes that a grand jury could "indict a ham sandwich," it's become clear that they also give much more leeway to police officers.
No fingerprints on the gun
During his investigation into the incident surrounding Wilson -- who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown, 18, during an altercation this summer in Ferguson, Missouri -- St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch's objective was routinely called into question. Though a Democrat, McCulloch's St. Louis police officer father was killed by an African American suspect in 1964. Critics have argued that close cooperation with local law enforcement made him more hesitant to seek charges; McCulloch's office says he presented all the evidence he had to the grand jury and let them decide.
Also, in the Brown case, critics noted that Ferguson officer Wilson was called to provide hours of testimony in his own defense. "For this and other reasons," HuffPo reported, "critics accused prosecutors of abusing the grand jury process to achieve an outcome that would be favorable to law enforcement. It's not yet clear what role, if any, Pantaleo played in the grand jury proceedings" in his case.
Orta's lawyer, Matthew Zuntag, has said that no fingerprints were found on the .25 automatic that police charged his client with possessing. That isn't non-incriminating in and of itself, but it serves to feed the narrative that perhaps Orta was a victim as well.
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