Daniel Penny, the U.S. Marine veteran who was filmed placing Jordan Neely in a deadly chokehold position on a New York City subway train earlier this week released his first statement through his lawyers on Friday.
Penny, a 24-year-old white man from West Islip, Long Island, was one of several individuals who tackled Neely, a homeless Black man who was also a Michael Jackson impersonator, and held him to the ground on an F train on Monday, according to video captured by freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez. The journalist told the New York Post that Neely was screaming “in an aggressive manner” before he was tackled.
“He said he had no food, he had no drink, that he was tired and doesn’t care if he goes to jail,” Vazquez said, adding that Neely did not attack anyone, but Penny approached him after he threw his jacket to the ground. Neely also, at one point, said that he was ready to die, according to The New York Times.
The video posted by Vazquez showed the former Marine lying under Neely and restraining him in chokehold position for several minutes. The man failed to break free from Penny’s tight grip as another passenger pinned his arms and another person held down his shoulder.
In an extended video of the incident cited by the Daily Mail, a bystander who stepped onto the train warned Penny about holding Neely in that position. However, Penny continued holding him in the chokehold even after the homeless man faltered after 2 minutes and 6 seconds. The man who was not seen in the video can be heard telling Penny that Neely had defecated, adding, “you’re going to kill him now.”
New York City’s medical examiner said Neely died from compression of the neck and classified the death as a homicide, but added it is up to the legal system to determine whether the incident is of criminal liability. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it is investigating. Meanwhile, Penny was detained after the incident, but was later released without charges.
Joseph Giacalone, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College, told The Guardian on Friday that he believed Penny could be considered for charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide given the contents of the video. Those charges typically stem from unintentional killings and they are not as serious as a murder, but are still treated as an illegal crime.
Attorneys Steven M. Raiser and Thomas A. Kenniff released a statement on Penny’s behalf on Friday, saying that their client “never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death,” and blamed city officials for their response to mental illness.
“Mr. Neely had a documented history of violent and erratic behavior, the apparent result of ongoing and untreated mental illness. When Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived,” the lawyers wrote in the statement, which was posted on Twitter by HuffPost’s senior editor Philip Lewis.
Neely Had a Lengthy Record of Aggressive Behavior: Police
A New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesperson told Newsweek on Thursday that Neely had a record of 42 prior arrests, dating between 2013 and 2021. Four of his arrests were for alleged assault and he was also accused of transit fraud and criminal trespass. At the time of his death, Neely had one active warrant for an alleged assault of a 67-year-old woman that happened in 2021.
Many of Neely’s arrests were for alleged violations of local law, the spokesperson added, and also included lower-level offenses such as having an open container of alcohol in public.
“For too long, those suffering from mental illness have been treated with indifference. We hope that out of this awful tragedy will come a new commitment by our elected officials to address the mental health crisis on our streets and subways,” read the letter by Penny’s lawyers.
A number of attacks across New York City’s subway system in the past two years have prompted calls for safer subways by commuters and city residents. The NYPD sent Newsweek data last year stating that the city’s subway system saw 461 felony assaults in 2021, which is 100 more felonies than in 2020. This figure is also the highest since 1997, according to the New York Post at the time. In addition, eight homicides were reported in 2021.
Neely’s Death Sparks Outrage, Divides Public Opinion
The homeless man’s death sparked outrage across the city, with protesters calling for Penny’s arrest, while others blamed city officials for failing to protect New Yorkers using the subway system.
Donald Grant, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, told NBC News that Neely’s action represents white vigilantism that threatens Black Americans.
“It reignites the terror in the souls of Black folks when we witness these killings of our people without trial, without jury, without adjudication,” said Grant, adding “this vigilante activity is really a reminder of the dangerous conditions that Black Americans exist in now.”
New York City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams also suggested that racism in the legal system was a factor in Neely’s death as she condemned the incident in a statement on Twitter on Wednesday. She added that Neely’s mental health challenges were “no reason for his life to be taken.”
Meanwhile, Rahnuma Tarannum, a 25-year-old data analyst who lives in Brooklyn pointed that the lack of public safety in NYC’s subway system played a factor in Neely’s death. She told the Times that “because police are not doing their job, that’s why the citizens of New York are taking the law into their hands…somebody has to do something.”
What Do New York Officials Think?
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said on Thursday that the way the passengers dealt with Neely was an “extreme response.”
“I do want to acknowledge how horrific it was to view a video of Jordan Neely being killed for being a passenger on the subway trains,” she said during a press conference. A reporter asked the governor what would be the appropriate response to somebody who is “acting erratically, threatening people.”
“I think it’s a case-by-case situation. This was an unarmed individual who had been on the subway many times, known by many of the regular travelers,” she responded. “And you know, sometimes people have an episode where they’re displaying their feelings in a loud and emotional way, but it became very clear that he was not going to, you know, cause harm to these other people. And the video of three individuals holding him down until the last breath was snuffed out of him. I would say it was a very extreme response.”
However, New York City Mayor Eric Adams had a different view of the situation, saying it was “irresponsible” to cast blame before knowing all the facts.
“We do know there were serious mental health issues in play here which is why our administration has made record investment in providing care to those who ended it and getting people off the streets and subways, and out of dangerous situations,” he said, according to the National Review.
Newsweek reached out by email to Penny’s attorneys, the NYPD, and several criminal justice experts for comment.
The post Daniel Penny Breaks Silence on Killing of Jordan Neely appeared first on Newsweek.