On July 17, 2014, Ramsey Orta took out his mobile phone and filmed a police officer in New York killing his friend, Eric Garner. But as soon as he stopped recording, Orta says his own life also took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Viewed millions of times, Orta’s clip shows Daniel Pantaleo, a white officer, gripping his arms around Garner’s neck in a chokehold.
Garner, a black American, was 43 years old at the time, and an asthmatic.
“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,” Garner said, as he was being pinned to the ground and asphyxiated.
They were his last words.
Garner, a father of six, was selling loose cigarettes in Staten Island, New York, when officers tackled him. His case was ruled as a homicide, meaning that his death was caused by human beings, but Pantaleo was not indicted. In 2015, Garner’s family reached a $5.9m settlement with the city of New York.
Orta’s recording of the killing has been praised by many for bringing to light police brutality, and setting off what has been described as a citizen journalism trend exposing injustices.
But ever since releasing the footage of Garner’s killing, Orta, 25, says he has become the target of police retaliation.
‘Behind enemy lines’
On Monday, Orta will begin a four-year prison sentence, after taking a plea deal in July for a weapons and drug case.
It is the result, he and his lawyers argue, of a police campaign to harm his life. After filming Garner’s death, they claim, he was increasingly harassed and targeted by police and was arrested at least eight times in fewer than two years.
Of several criminal cases against him, only two charges stuck. Two weeks after filming Garner’s death, Orta was arrested on charges of possessing a handgun and was later caught selling heroin to an undercover policeman.
“[Hours after] Eric died, at 4am in the morning, there was a spotlight shining through my window. I looked out the window and there was a cop [police] car outside,” Orta told Al Jazeera on Friday.
“They parked outside my house and stopped people coming in and out of my house. That was going on until the day they ruled it [Garner’s case] a homicide. I’ve been arrested and let out many times. And now I am convicted of only two of seven cases.”
According to reports, Orta is suing New York City for $10m for unwarranted arrests by the NYPD that he says were attempts to discredit his video of Garner’s final moments.
Al Jazeera contacted New York City police for comment, but did not receive a response at time of publication.
In August 2014, Pat Lynch, president of New York’s biggest police union, said it “is criminals like Mr. Orta who carry illegal firearms who stand to benefit the most by demonising the good work of police officers”.
Orta has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and suffers from depression, anxiety and paranoia.
“My biggest fear about prison would be not coming out alive. I fear for myself being behind enemy lines,” he said. “I’m going in there with a level head. I’m praying that I can come right out and continue my life as an activist.”
SOURCE: Anealla Safdar