Ex-Marine who put subway performer in a chokehold formally charged with manslaughter

Source: Twitter

Janon Fisher, Thomas Tracy, Molly Crane-Newman, Rebecca White and Larry McShane
New York Daily News

Daniel Penny, the ex-Marine caught on video placing Jordan Neely in a deadly chokehold aboard a Manhattan subway train, was released on $100,000 bond Friday after surrendering on a charge of second-degree manslaughter.

The 24-year-old defendant arrived in handcuffs for his first court appearance around noon after surrendering to police in lower Manhattan in the death of Neely, who has a history of mental illness and a lengthy arrest record.

Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass said prosecutors reviewed video footage and interviewed several eyewitnesses, including responding officers, before a charge of second-degree manslaughter was brought.

According to Steinglass, the whole episode unfolded within the span of one stop on the northbound F train, between Second Avenue and Broadway/Lafayette. Several witnesses told police they observed Neely making threats and scaring passengers before Penny approached him from behind.

“The defendant approached Mr. Neely from behind and placed him in a chokehold, taking him down to the ground,” the prosecutor said. “… At some point, Mr. Neely stopped moving. The defendant continued the chokehold for several minutes.”

Steinglass added that the defendant remained in the subway station voluntarily to answer questions about the lethal encounter with Neely, though the NYPD’s decision to release Penny after being questioned has sparked a firestorm of criticism across the city and calls for racial justice. Neely is Black; Penny is white.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg weighed in after the hearing.

“Jordan Neely should still be alive today, and my thoughts continue to be with his family and loved ones as they mourn his loss during this extremely painful time,” said Bragg.

Penny arrived earlier Friday at the 5th Precinct stationhouse in Chinatown shortly after 8 a.m. to surrender in the killing of the 30-year-old homeless man in a headline-making and polarizing homicide. Second-degree manslaughter, defined under New York law as recklessly causing the death of another, carries a sentence of five to 15 years.

“He did so voluntarily and with the sort of dignity and integrity that is characteristic of his history of service to this grateful nation,” said defense attorney Thomas Kenniff. “… He has his head help up high.”

Cellphone video captures deadly chokehold incident on subway.

Penny, in a black suit and white shirt, ignored shouted questions from a horde of reporters gathered outside, with cameras lining the street as he walked into a waiting car.

The next step in the proceeding is for the case to go to a grand jury. Penny was ordered to surrender his passport and cannot leave New York without permission.

“Mr. Penny not only has ties to this community, he is in fact a pillar of the community,” said Kenniff. “He has resided in the New York area his entire life, of course, for the exception … (of his) military service.”

In the caught-on-video attack, the Marine was recorded May 1 on the floor of the F train inside the Broadway/Lafayette station with his left arm wrapped around the throat of Neely, a former subway busker who made money impersonating Michael Jackson.

The video showed Neely initially fighting back before he stopped moving. Penny was questioned by police later that day but released without charges. The case was later ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, who said Neely died from compression to his neck.

Neely’s family spoke out after Penny’s arrest.

“We don’t want it where you can kill someone because you thought there was a possibility they could do something to you,” said Neely family attorney Donte Mills, who was joined Friday at a news conference with the victim’s father and aunt.

“There was no attack. Mr. Neely, he did not attack anyone. He did not touch anyone. He did not hit anyone. But he was choked to death and that cannot stand.”

Neely entered the train at the Second Avenue station ranting about being hungry and needing money, with freelance journalist and fellow straphanger Alberto Vazquez shooting video of the lethal confrontation.

“I don’t have food, I don’t have a drink, I’m fed up,” said Neely, according to the journalist. “I don’t mind if I go to jail and (get) life in prison … I’m ready to die.”

Neely “didn’t seem like he wanted to hurt anyone,” Vazquez wrote on a Facebook post.

According to police, Neely yelled and threw garbage at commuters.

During the diatribe, Penny allegedly came up behind him and put him in a chokehold. Video shows the two men on the floor of the subway train with Penny’s legs wrapped around Neely and his arm firmly around his neck. The Rev. Al Sharpton has called for the arrests of the two other subway riders as well.

Neely became homeless after moving out of his father’s Bronx apartment four years ago for a life on the streets. His dad said Neely, who battled mental health issues and racked up 42 arrests in the last decade, was also devastated by his mother’s 2007 murder.

Kenniff, who ran against Bragg in 2020, had previously suggested his client acted in self-defense, an assertion rejected by Neely’s family.

The jarring video of the chokehold and the news of Neely’s death prompted angry reactions from New Yorkers and local politicians, along with a debate over the shortcomings in the city’s mental health care system.

Hundreds of protesters and police faced off during marches and vigils throughout the week after the killing.

More than a dozen protesters, and a photojournalist, were arrested at various protests across Manhattan. At one protest, demonstrators climbed onto the rail bed of the busy Second Avenue station, blocking train traffic and risking arrest and electrocution.

Racial justice activists questioned why Penny was not arrested immediately for the death of Neely.

They chanted “Justice for Jordan Neely” and other slogans.

Mayor Eric Adams initially cautioned patience and asked the public to allow the authorities to investigate before releasing a Wednesday statement.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here,” the mayor said. “However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here, which is why our administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people of the streets and the subways, and out of dangerous situations.”

But Adams’ stand sparked criticism. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., quickly slammed Adams’ response, calling Neely’s death a “public murder.”

”This honestly feels like a new low: not being able to clearly condemn a public murder because the victim was of a social status some would deem ‘too low’ to care about,” the Queens congresswoman tweeted.

Penny joined the Marines in 2017 and left four years later with the rank of sergeant. During his tour of duty he received many accolades including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

He served in the Mediterranean and his last assignment was in Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, Marine Corps officials said.


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