Outflanking The Murder of Eric Garner

The sound of air being sucked from PBA president Pat Lynch’s lungs when he learned that Eric Garner’s death was ruled a homicide by police chokehold must have been deafening.  But a good PBA president doesn’t give up so easily. Not when his boys are at risk. And Pat Lynch is a great president.

There may be nothing left to do, no taint untouched, no smear unsmirched, when it comes to Eric Garner. So the frontal assault on the victim failed, leaving Officer Daniel Pantaleo the needless killer.  That would never do, as it puts every officer at grave risk of rebuke for the mere use of force whenever they have the misfortune of murdering someone for no reason.  Lynch was being tested.  A great PBA president would never give up just because the Medical Exminaner called it murder.

Then an exposed flank appeared, and the NYPD, in one of its greatest moments of bravery, exploited it:

Narcotics officers on Saturday arrested a Staten Island man whose visceral cellphone images of the forceful and ultimately deadly arrest of Eric Garner helped galvanize protests and set off a citywide debate over police practices.

The police charged the man, Ramsey Orta, with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon — a .25-caliber Norton semiautomatic handgun — that the officers said he tried to pass to a teenager on the sidewalk of a drug-prone street blocks from the spot where officers had the fatal confrontation with Mr. Garner.

The luck, the unfathomable good fortune of the police to have such a confluence of events happen, right before their eyes.  The very man who shot the video of Garner’s murder, just happened to pass a gun, A GUN!!!, to a teenager on a drug-prone street, A DRUG-PRONE STREET!!!, right under the watchful eyes of cops.  What are the chances?

At Huffington Post, the retelling is even more filled with nefarious detail:

Ramsey Orta, 22, and a 17-year-old female were spotted on Saturday outside a known drug location on Staten Island by narcotics officers who saw Orta put a handgun in his companion’s waistband, the New York Police Department said.

Orta, who has a previous criminal conviction, faces two charges of criminal possession of a weapon.

At some point during his arrest, Orta told officers, “You’re just mad because I filmed your boy,” an NYPD spokeswoman said.

To decipher some of the police jargon, every location in New York other than St. Patrick’s Cathedral is a “known drug location” as far as the police are concerned. There is no official status, but rather a characterization that gets pulled out whenever the cops need a little extra taint to spread on the perp.  Similarly, Orta’s “previous criminal conviction” could mean loitering when he was twelve or a murder, although if it was serious, one would expect the police to make damn sure they gave the press every lurid detail.

But nobody in New York could have been prouder of the Finest than beleaguered PBA president Pat Lynch.  When an arrest happens in New York, particularly a low-level bust for something as pedestrian as a weapon, the most that is expected is a comment by a police spokesmodel about the bravery and vigilance of the eagle-eyed cops who spied the furtive gesture from three blocks away through the granite walls of a drug-prone location.

Not this time:

The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the largest union representing NYPD officers, said in a statement that it was “criminals like Mr. Orta who carry illegal firearms who stand to benefit the most by demonizing the good work of police officers.”

“Sadly, in the effort to keep neighborhoods like Tompkinsville safe, a tragedy occurred. But that doesn’t change the fact that police officers routinely risk their lives for the benefit of the community,” the statement said.

Come on, you have to be impressed by the statement.  The problem is no longer Pantaleo killing Garner, but “criminals like Mr. Orta who carry illegal firearms who stand to benefit the most by demonizing the good work of police officers.”  This is poetry. This is genius.  It was all about criminals demonizing cops, not cops killing people.

Those who are inclined to believe police will embrace the narrative that Orta had a gun and, inexplicably, decided to put it into the waistband of a 17-year-old female teenager while the cops were watching.  Those who are not so inclined will see this as a set up, payback to Orta, and refuse to credit anything about this bust.  In the absence of information, both views are speculative at this point, and reflect only the bias of their holders rather than the facts of what happened.

But when time comes to introduce the videotape of Eric Garner in court, and Ramsey Orta is called as a witness, you can bet there will be questions aplenty about his being a criminal bent on demonizing the police, as if anything Orta could have done shooting the video had anything whatsoever to do with Pantaleo’s chokehold or Garner’s death.

It may well be the reddest of herrings, the most irrelevant of questions, but it will be the focus of the attack on the video necessary to show how Police Officer Pantaleo killed Garner.  And no doubt Lynch took a deep breath upon learning of Orta’s arrest, and how his tenure as PBA president was again secure by the opportunity to show that “police officers routinely risk their lives for the benefit of the community,” and so the least we can do in return is forgive them the occasional killing.

Maybe everything happened exactly the way the cops say.  Maybe this was just the most monumentally lucky moment for cops watching carefully because that’s their job.  Maybe this was a 100% righteous bust in every possible respect. But it still takes a great union president to exploit it to its fullest.  And that would be Pat Lynch.

19 comments on “Outflanking The Murder of Eric Garner

  1. ExEMT

    I noticed this tidbit on a number of websites, but your write-up is FAR superior to anything else on the Internet thus far on this new bit of information. Nice dissection of the events in New York.

    Anyone with more than two brain-cells to rub together can see that the PBA President is nutty as a fruitcake in his blind support of the officers that applied the illegal choke-hold. The new arrest is a drive-by character assassination of the person that took the video of Eric Garner, and the future attacks that will occur on the witness stand is a sure bet (as you sagely point out). Should we count the hours until the attacks on Mr. Orta begin in earnest?

    1. SHG Post author

      Don’t underestimate Pat Lynch. He is by no means nutty. He’s the PBA President, which means that it’s his duty to spin anything that happens in a way that inures to the benefit of his members. He may be totally full of it, but he is exceptionally good at his job.

  2. lawrence kaplan

    What is revealing is how the overwhelming majority of commentators on the Huffington Post Story are highly skeptical of the police account of the arrest of Orta, seeing it as a revenge set up and payback, not to mention that they rightly question its relevance to the now confirmed fact that Garner’s death was a homicide caused by an illegal police chokehold.

    My question is whether if there ever is a trial of Panteleo, would the defense attorney be allowed to enter Orta’s ” criminal record” as relevant or could the prosecutor successfully exclude it?

    1. SHG Post author

      Anything that impacts on the credibility of a witness for the prosecution should be fair game for cross. A prior record, unless it’s for something that impacts on credibility, however, is usually not considered relevant. However, there is an argument to be made that because of his involvement in crime, he is motivated to demonize police and be less than truthful about it on the witness stand.

      As for people who “believe” it’s a set up, or “believe” he’s a criminal, they are all pissing in the wind. Without facts, beliefs are meaningless.

      1. Jesse

        In this case, the witness is a video, and doesn’t seem to rest on the credibility of the dude holding the camera. At least that sounds reasonable to me, a legal-system outsider.

        Frankly, Lynch should probably be careful, since basically he’s implying that all one has to do to “demonize” the police is point a camera in their general direction (and then let others view the video.)

        1. HFB

          Jesse,

          Exactly what I was thinking…the character of Orta is meaningless. The video is the evidence/witness. Unless (ha!) they can show he doctored it somehow, they can make him look as bad as they want with no effect.
          Or are we to believe that, if you have it out for the cops strongly enough, it will cause THEM to do bad things?

  3. lawrence kaplan

    But how did he “demonize” the police? He just took a video.

    Note that I said that the commentators “rightly” questioned the arrest’s relevance . I did NOT say that they “rightly” believed that that the arrest was “payback.” I only mentioned the prevalence of this belief to indicate the climate of suspicion among large sections of the public regarding police activities and claims.

    1. SHG Post author

      You miss the point. In law, we argue our positions. Since I lack the ability to see into the future, I can’t answer what may or may not happen, but only what the arguments may be in light of the law. If you want that unsatisfying, then don’t ask questions.

      As for the commentators, it had nothing to do with what you think. It’s not all about you. In fact, it’s not about you at all.

      And on the whole, rank speculation is a game for non-lawyers, since their ideas are meaningless. If that’s the game you want to play, do it elsewhere. It’s a total waste of my time.

  4. lawrence kaplan

    I see your point about the possible, if doubtful, relevance of the arrest of Orta for a possible future trial of officer Pantaleo.

    I do not believe, however that you see mine. I am on your side. I too believe that the “rank speculation” about the arrest being ” payback” is worthless and meaningless in absence of further evidence. I merely noted it to indicate the climate of suspicion out there. I am sorry I did not make that clear in my first comment, though I believe I did make it clear in my second comment.

    1. SHG Post author

      First, please use the reply button rather than start a new comment thread. I let it go last time, but you’re really shitting up my comments.

      Second, if you agreed, then why were you arguing the point that it wasn’t your view. No one said it was. Remember these comments aren’t just a private conversation between me and you, but everybody gets to read them, so I try to make my comments issue directed whenever possible.

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