As a South Carolina police officer faces murder charges after his fatal shooting of unarmed Walter Scott was caught on video, we look at what happened to the man who filmed Eric Garner’s fatal chokehold on Staten Island. While no police officers were indicted for Garner’s death, the man who filmed the attack, Ramsey Orta, is now locked up in jail after facing what he described as harassment by local police. Orta was first arrested on an unrelated gun charge the day after the Staten Island coroner declared Garner’s death to be a homicide. He was later arrested and jailed on a drug charge. His mother, brother and wife have all been arrested too. Supporters have accused the New York City Police Department of targeting Orta’s family for releasing the Garner video. We are joined by Ramsey Orta’s aunt, Lisa Mercado, as well as Orta family attorneys, William Aronin and Ken Perry.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: “Should Have Known Better,” by Sufjan Stevens, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In South Carolina, a white police officer in the city of North Charleston has been fired after being charged with murder for shooting a black man in the back as he fled. The North Charleston Police Department had initially defended the officer, Michael Slater, after he said he feared for his life and claimed Scott had taken his taser weapon. But video captured by a bystander on his cell phone showed Slager shot Scott in the back at a distance of about 15 feet. The video also appears to capture Slager planting an object, possibly a gun, next to Walter Scott. Charges were filed against the officer only after the video emerged. On Wednesday, the bystander, Feidin Santana, who filmed the killing, spoke to NBC News.
FEIDIN SANTANA: When I saw the scene, I was walking to my job – I was walking to my job and I see Mr. Scott, rest in peace. And I saw police after him, chase him. I was on a phone call, and I decide to go over there to see what was going on.
LESTER HOLT: was there a struggle?
FEIDIN SANTANA: There was. They were down on the floor. They were down on the floor before I started recording. You know they were down on the floor. I remember the police had control of the situation. He had control of Scott. And Scott was trying just trying to get away from the Taser, which, a Taser, you know, you can hear the sounds of the Taser.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Feidin Santana who filmed the police killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina, and the apparent police planting of a Taser gun once he was lying on the ground handcuffed, face down, not clear if he is dead or dying. The Scott family’s attorney described Santana as a hero. Chris Stewart said, “we have to really recognize the strength and fortitude and fearlessness that it took to come forward when you know you just filmed a police officer murder somebody.” Santana told MSNBC, he he was so afraid of retaliation after filming the incident, he considered deleting the footage and leaving town. But he brought the footage to Scott’s family after seeing how police were describing the shooting.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Many people have compared Feidin Santana to Ramsey Orta, the young Staten Island man who filmed the death of Eric Garner who died after police put him in a chokehold after they confronted him for allegedly selling cigarettes. You can hear Orta’s voice on the video of the incident saying, “once again, police beating up on people.”
ERIC GARNER: I’m tired of it, it stops today. It’s over.
RAMSEY ORTA: This guy right here is forcibly –
ERIC GARNER: What you mad with me for?
RAMSEY ORTA: — trying lock somebody up —
ERIC GARNER: Everybody’s – I didn’t do nothing.
RAMSEY ORTA: – for breaking up a fight.
OFFICER 1: I’m talking to you.
ERIC GARNER: Everybody’s standing here. I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing.
OFFICER 1: Why are you being [indiscernible]?
ERIC GARNER: Because every time you see me you want to harass me. You want to stop me [indiscernible] trying to sell cigarettes I’m minding my business, officer. I’m minding my business. Please, just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please, just leave me alone. Please don’t touch me. Don’t touch me.
RAMSEY ORTA: Hold on, hold on, hold on.
ERIC GARNER: Don’t touch me. [bleep]. Do not touch me [bleep]
BYSTANDER: Damn, man.
OFFICER 2: Alright, [indiscernible] down, down.
OFFICER 3: Let me see your hands buddy.
ERIC GARNER: [indiscernible].
OFFICER 3: Put your hands behind your head.
ERIC GARNER: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.
RAMSEY ORTA: Once again, police beating up on people –
OFFICER 4: Back up.
RAMSEY ORTA: – right here.
OFFICER 4: Back up and get on that steps.
RAMSEY ORTA: OK.
AMY GOODMAN: That was the video shot by Ramsey Orta of Eric Garner’s death after he was placed in a chokehold by New York police officers. Well, nine months after the killing of Eric Garner, only one person has served time in jail that is Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed the incident. In December, a grand jury decided not to indict Officer Pantaleo who placed Garner in the fatal chokehold. But Ramsey Orta was arrested on a gun charge unrelated to this case two weeks after he went public with the video of the incident. Orta told Time Magazine he was being harassed by police. We will go to that clip in a moment. Ramsey Orta was arrested again in February along with his mother and brother on drug charges. Orta’s wife was also arrested after he released the Garner video. Ramsey Orta is currently locked up on Rikers Island. Supporters of Orta have accused the New York Police of targeting the family for releasing the video of Eric Garner’s death. We’re joined now by three guests. Lisa Mercado is with us. She is Ramsey Orta’s aunt. We’re also joined by Orta’s attorneys William Aronin and Ken Perry. We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Thank you so much for being with us. Lisa, your nephew is in Rikers right now?
LISA MERCADO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
LISA MERCADO: Falsely accused of another accusation, second accusation.
AMY GOODMAN: Was it the day after the coroner announced the death of Eric Garner a homicide that Ramsey was first arrested?
LISA MERCADO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then his wife, Chrissie Ortiz, was arrested after that?
LISA MERCADO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What did he tell you at the time, what was happening to him? Was he afraid?
LISA MERCADO: Yes, he was afraid.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Lisa Mercado, a lot of people, viewers around the country don’t know Staten Island, but Staten Island is the borough known for having the most police who live in the – percentage-wise – in that area. So this whole issue of police harassment to your family, could you talk about that?
LISA MERCADO: It’s just, ever since the film – the filming that Ramsey did, it was a constant harassment every day, on a daily basis, within the day hours and it could be 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 in the morning, police would ride by the home and put spotlights into the windows of the home.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to that clip we hadn’t played yet. Ramsey Orta speaking to Time Magazine about what he is been through since filming Eric Garner’s chokehold death.
RAMSEY ORTA: I have been harassed by cops since this happened. – anything, like, just don’t interact physically. Pull out a camera, and that’s all people need. Not only New Yorkers getting abused by police, it’s everywhere. I just hope it gives people the courage to not be scared of these people. ‘Cause it’s a lot of he said, she said, but once you have proof there’s nothing can go against that.
AMY GOODMAN: Last year, New York City police also arrested Ramsey Orta’s wife, Chrissie Ortiz, and accused her of assault. She told PIX 11 police have been harassing her and her husband, Ramsey.
CHRISSIE ORTIZ: Four o’clock in the morning I have – we’re laying down, and my whole room lights up. And I’m like, what – what is that? And we look out the window and it’s a police car, they’re driving by and put the spotlight into my window. What was that for?
AMY GOODMAN: That was Chrissie Ortiz. So describe what’s happened with your family now. With Ramsey now at Rikers, where is Chrissie, Lisa Mercado?
LISA MERCADO: She’s at a friends house. The entire family ended up having to relocate out of Staten Island.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
LISA MERCADO: Because of the harassment of the police officers.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Ken Perry, can you talk about this – this continuing situation with the family, the harassment here?
KEN PERRY: Well, it seems to be a purposeful set of circumstances, where they’re going to show people don’t mess with us. Other than that, I’m not sure what we can really say about it. I mean, these people have had to move out of the area. When Ramsey’s out we want him out of the area as well. And part of this whole problem, which we will talk about, is why we want a change of venue for any trial that comes up on this, because it is important that he has a fair makeup of a jury. And he is not going to get that in Staten Island.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And why not?