It is legal to film police, in most ordinary circumstances. It is legal to film things that are happening in public space, and there is no exception to that where police are concerned (assuming, of course, you aren’t preventing them from doing their job — or whatever it is they’re doing instead.) Is it safe, though?
You probably remember Eric Garner’s name — he’s the man who died last summer when police used an illegal chokehold to detain him — even though he turned out to be innocent of any wrongdoing. (Yes, he’d illegally sold cigarettes before. Police had no suspicion of him at the time other than recognizing him.)
You may not, however, remember the name of Ramsey Orta. He’s the man who filmed police causing Eric Garner’s death.
People have called Feiden Santana, who filmed the death of Walter Scott at the hands of South Carolina officer Michael Slager brave for coming forward. Ramsey Orta is a clear depiction of just how brave.
Not long after turning over his video, Orta was charged with possession of a weapon. According to the Gothamist, Orta and his wife said that police were targeting him. His wife says that officers would park across the street and watch for him, then follow him. With regard to the weapons charge, she says that ‘even the dumbest criminal’ wouldn’t have gone out of the house with an illegal weapon under those circumstances — hinting that the weapon was planted.
Orta was arrested again in February on drug charges. SI Live reported at the time that Orta — and others arrested — said they were framed in this case too.
Bail for Ramsey Orta was set, and the man was placed in Rikers. When he quit eating food provided by the prison a few weeks ago, after rat poison was found in the food (there is a lawsuit underway), Free Thought Project and others pushed anew for donations to help Orta make bail — and succeeded.
SI Live reports, though, that despite the public nature of the fundraiser, when Orta’s family paid up on Thursday, officials refused to release him, instead demanding proof that the money hadn’t come from any illegal pursuits.
On Friday, the challenge to the bail was dropped, but as of Friday evening, Orta still isn’t free, and officials aren’t offering any direct answers when asked if the man who says he’s being persecuted for daring to film police will be free before Monday.