The parents of an 11-year-old Boerum Hill girl who died of an asthma attack in a case of police incompetence suffered a setback in their quest to honor her memory when a local pol dropped the ball on a simple piece of paperwork this week.
The family of Briana Ojeda want to co-name a street after her, but their application has been pushed back for months because Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill) failed to file a letter of support in time. Ojeda died of an asthma attack in 2010 after her mother Carmen crashed on the way to the hospital and Officer Alfonso Mendez failed to provide CPR and allegedly tried to ticket the mom rather than helping. Levin skipped the Jan. 20 Community Board 2 meeting where the co-naming application was to be voted on, and his spokesman, who did attend, offered no excuse.
“Overall, this was a miscommunication,” said Matt Ojala, director of policy and legislation for Levin. “We thought everything would be in and it wasn’t. It’s really unfortunate for everyone.”
Following the publication of this article, Levin said that he didn’t know a letter was mandatory, and thought Ojala’s presence would be enough.
“We understood the instructions to mean that they needed evidence of support. We felt that having a staff member there showed that support,” he said.
The Ojedas want to co-name Bergen Street between Hoyt and Bond streets, where they have lived since the early 1980s.
“This would help our family get used to life without Briana,” said Michael Ojeda, Briana’s father.
The board approval was supposed to go through in time for the Jan. 22 Council hearing on street namings, and the snafu means the Ojeda co-naming will likely be held up for months, if not a year. The Council typically votes on street co-namings in bunches. Last year it held one vote for 63 streets, and in 2013 it voted on co-naming three times, affecting 114 streets. At the Jan. 22 hearing, Council members approved 56 co-namings, including streets to honor murdered NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.
The board requires co-naming applications to include petition signatures from residents and businesses on the block, and letters of support from local elected officials. The Ojedas had the paperwork with them at Tuesday’s community board transportation committee meeting, after spending the weekend out in the rain collecting signatures. But the board said it needs those materials prior to a meeting if they are going to vote on it, and faulted Levin for not getting the stuff in.
“We just don’t have all the information we require for a street co-naming,” said transportation committee chairman John Dewey at the meeting.
Briana, who was a student at Saint Francis Xavier School, suffered an asthma attack while playing in Carroll Park on Aug. 27, 2010. Carmen Ojeda put the child in her car and gunned it, heading for Long Island College Hospital. She sideswiped another vehicle near Kane and Henry streets while driving the wrong way down a one-way street and Officer Mendez confronted her. Carmen Ojeda said that Mendez did nothing to help her daughter and, over her protests, started writing up a traffic citation as Briana gasped for air. He later admitted he did not know CPR, according to sources, even though all NYPD officers are trained in the technique at the police academy. Mendez eventually escorted the two to the hospital, but by then Briana was beyond saving. Mendez was suspended from the NYPD but not charged with a crime, and the Ojedas sued the city. That lawsuit is ongoing.
Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D–Red Hook) introduced a bill called Briana’s Law in 2013 that would require all police officers in the state to be retrained in CPR every two years. It passed the Assembly last year but did not get voted on in the Senate. A spokeswoman for state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D–Boerum Hill), who is steering the bill through the Senate, said she will try to get it passed this year.
“The senator is going to be working hard to get it through this year,” said Sandy Stewart, the office’s legislative director.
Ojeda’s father said the street co-naming will remind people of the law, if it passes.
“Even in death she is trying to save lives,” he said.
Levin introduced a separate bill in February, 2014, calling for police to issue an annual report on its defibrillator and CPR training. That bill is languishing in committee.
After the community board votes on a co-naming, it goes up for a vote in the Council. The board’s vote is purely advisory, but Levin said he held off on introducing a co-naming bill to get its blessing.
“We decided to not move ahead with the co-naming today because we wanted to get the community board’s opinion on the matter,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Levin has neglected the community board’s process. The councilman bypassed the panel entirely the last three times there was a co-naming in the district, and members asked him to consult them, according to district manager Robert Perris. Ironically, it was Levin’s acquiescence that got him into further trouble.
“This time we wanted to be accommodating to that concern,” Levin said.
The board sent Levin’s office a list of the requirements a week in advance of the latest meeting, and Levin’s office assured members he would get them everything ahead of the meeting, Perris said. Levin didn’t.
Levin’s aide Ojala said the family did what was asked of it, and he understands their disappointment. Levin said the co-naming should eventually go through.
“We think its an appropriate way to honor this wonderful young girl,” he said. “We’d like to see it move forward.”