While it is generally positive for officials to personally engage themselves in community issues, one councilmember’s involvement landed him as the victim of an assault.
Around noon on Wednesday, May 30, as Councilmember Daniel Dromm drove his car through Jackson Heights on the way back to his office, he saw an 18-wheel truck from National Farm double-parked, blocking traffic on 37th Avenue outside Trade Fair supermarket. Dromm said the truck driver was nowhere in sight, and he began snapping photos of the vehicle on his cell phone.
Upon seeing Dromm, the driver allegedly ran from around the truck and charged at him, repeatedly yelling, “no pictures!” before ripping the phone from his hand, striking him in the jaw and punching him in the chest.
Dromm said he yelled for help and was heard by workers in Congressmember Joseph Crowley’s nearby office, who then called the police. Dromm requested his cell phone back from the driver, identifying himself as an elected official. The driver refused to return it.
According to Dromm, when the police arrived they questioned the driver, identified by the district attorney’s office as John J Muriel. Muriel admitted he had Dromm’s phone, but would not say how he came to possess it.
Trade Fair manager Victor Fuentes was in the store when the incident took place, but alleged that he did not see anything when he went outside. Fuentes also said he has never had a problem like this in the past.
According to the DA, Muriel was arrested for assault in the third degree, petit larceny, criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree and harassment in the second degree.
According to the councilmember, an ongoing Jackson Heights study, instituted three years ago, began looking at traffic issues including congestion, parking and numbers of pedestrians. The study involved around 500 people – more than had ever been engaged in a traffic study before in New York City. Dromm stated he wanted to add the photos of the poorly-parked truck to the study, furthering the public’s awareness of vehicular issues in the neighborhood.
“It’s a combination of all these things that have happened here,” said Dromm. “Things have gotten out of control. We’re going to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’ We expect people who drive through and park in this neighborhood to abide by the law. That’s the minimal expectation. Blatant disregard for the law affects the quality of life here in the neighborhood.”
National Farm could not be reached for comment as of press time, and attempts to reach a Legal Aid attorney for Muriel were unsuccessful.