Orta was arrested in June after selling $40 worth of MDMA, a drug known as "Molly," to an undercover officer. After he spent several days in jail, the charges were dropped.
Lawyer Andrew Plasse said Orta "feels he was unjustly singled out for arrest because he took that film of his friend getting arrested," adding, "The police have gone out of their way to follow him and arrest him every chance they get." The lawsuit was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Tuesday and states the arrest was an attempt by New York police to "discredit" the footage of Garner’s death.
The lawyer said in court papers, "…instead of winning accolades for his professional journalism and/or being praised by the media for his exposure of brutal police tactics and the failure of EMTs to assist victims of Police Brutality, (Orta) was maligned and smeared by the NYPD, (and) arrested continually on false and/or trumped up charges."
Plasse acknowledged that Orta, who had a history of run-ins with law enforcement, had been arrested before the video was posted, but said that the frequency of his arrests has increased significantly. He stated that his client has been arrested 26 times since he recorded Garner’s death on his cellphone, and remarked that if his client is sentenced for every offense he would serve more jail time than David Berkowitz, the notorious "Son of Sam" serial killer.
The video, shot on July 17, 2014, shows 43-year-old Garner pinned down by NYPD officers and repeatedly saying, "I can’t breathe," after being placed in a chokehold. The police first approached Garner for selling loose cigarettes. He refused to be handcuffed and told the officers to leave him alone.
Officer David Pantaleo placed the chokehold on Garner, a move banned under NYPD regulations. Pantaleo remains on administrative duty while the federal civil rights probe continues. The officer’s lawyer has stated that his client did not violate Garner’s civil rights and that he was performing his duties as an officer according to how he was trained.
Orta is currently in Las Vegas with his wife, keeping a low profile, while awaiting an October court date for unrelated drug and firearms charges. The 26-year-old was arrested on Staten Island two weeks after Garner’s death for possessing a.25 caliber Norton semiautomatic handgun and was caught selling heroin to an undercover officer six months later.