Jordan Neely: What happened in NYC subway chokehold case?

·5 min read

A New York subway rider has been charged with manslaughter after he applied a fatal chokehold to restrain another passenger.

Jordan Neely, a 30-year old homeless man, was declared dead after a struggle with other passengers on 1 May.

Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old ex-Marine who was filmed by an onlooker as he restrained Mr Neely, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

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What happened in the fatal encounter?

It took place on a Monday afternoon on a northbound F train in Manhattan.

Witnesses said Mr Neely had been shouting at other passengers and asking for money. There is no evidence he had attacked any of them.

Bystander video shows Mr Penny with his arms around Mr Neely's neck for about two minutes and 55 seconds.

Two other passengers are also seen restraining Mr Neely by the arms.

After two minutes, a passerby who had entered the train warns Mr Penny and the other men that Mr Neely might be dying.

Daniel Penny is escorted in handcuffs by the NYPD after turning himself in in New York City on 12 May 2023
Daniel Penny is escorted in handcuffs by the NYPD after turning himself in in New York City on 12 May 2023

One of the men replies that Mr Penny has stopped "squeezing" Mr Neely's neck.

The passerby says that Mr Neely had defecated on himself, and that this could be a sign he is dying.

He warns Mr Penny had that if he does not let Mr Neely go, he could face a murder charge.

After Mr Penny rises to his feet, another passenger tells him: "That was one hell of a chokehold, man."

Police told CBS News, the BBC's US partner, that Mr Penny had told other passengers to call emergency services during the struggle.

Video shows him putting Mr Neely into a recovery position after he goes limp.

Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist who filmed the encounter, told the New York Times that Mr Neely had been screaming that he had nothing to eat or drink.

"I don't mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I'm ready to die," he reportedly said.

Mr Vazquez said that he did not believe the man would die.

"None of us were thinking that," he told the New York Times. "He was moving and he was defending himself."

Who was Jordan Neely?

Jordan Neely was a Michael Jackson impersonator who frequently performed in New York's Times Square.

He had 42 previous arrests on charges such as evading fares, theft and assaults on three women, according to US media.

He had pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman leaving a subway station in 2021.

His mother, Christie Neely, was strangled to death in 2007 by her boyfriend, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2012.

Following his mother's death, Mr Neely began experiencing mental health issues, according to family members.

"Jordan deserves justice. He was loved," his aunt Carolyn Neely told the BBC.

Dante Mills, a lawyer for the Neely family, has accused Mr Penny of acting as a vigilante. The attorney said Mr Neely never harmed any passengers on the day he was killed.

"He had demons. He went through tragedy at a very young age," Mr Mills said.

Who is Daniel Penny?

Daniel Penny is from Long Island and had previously served in the US Marines.

In a statement released through his lawyers days after Mr Neely's death, he expressed condolences to his family.

The statement added that Mr Neely had been "aggressively threatening" their client and other passengers, and that Mr Penny and others "acted to protect themselves, until help arrived".

A person holds a 'Freedom Daniel Penny' sign outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on 12 May 2023
A person holds a 'Freedom Daniel Penny' sign outside the Manhattan Criminal Court on 12 May 2023

"Daniel never intended to harm Mr Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death."

According to NBC News, he graduated from high school in 2016 and was most recently living in the New York City borough of Queens.

During his time in the Marines, he achieved the rank of sergeant and earned a number of awards including Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal. He was discharged in June 2021.

His lawyers say he is currently studying architecture at university.

After pleading not guilty to the charges, he was freed on bail after paying a $100,000 (£80,000) bond.

What is second-degree manslaughter?

Second-degree manslaughter charges are filed when a person "recklessly causes the death of another person", according to New York's criminal code.

In New York state, the jury must find the defendant engaged in reckless conduct creating an unjustifiable risk of death, and then consciously disregarded that risk.

The defendant's actions must also be a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would have acted in a similar situation.

Suspects who unintentionally caused a death, but were unaware of the danger of their actions, could face a lesser charge of criminal negligent homicide.

A protest to honour the life of Jordan Neely on 8 May 2023
A protest to honour the life of Jordan Neely on 8 May 2023

What are the chances of a conviction?

Manhattan prosecutor Alvin Bragg is confident enough that he can win a conviction that he opted to file charges directly, rather than punting the controversial decision to a grand jury, which can be used to determine whether there is enough evidence to pursue a prosecution.

There has been a growing awareness of the danger of chokeholds after the 2014 death of Eric Garner, an unarmed man from New York City restrained by the neck by police.

And after the death of George Floyd in 2020, New York legislators increased penalties for officers who use chokeholds during arrest.

But Jeffrey Lichtman, a New York defence attorney who has previously represented drug lord El Chapo and accused mobster John Gotti Jr, says prosecutors will fail to win their case against Daniel Penny because the state must prove that the accused knew his actions could kill.

Mr Penny, he says, was selflessly risking his life to protect fellow passengers, and witnesses have said they did not expect the tussle on the subway floor to end in death.

"It's not like he snuck up behind him and hit him over the head with a brick or a bat," he says, adding that at any point Mr Neely could have submitted and ended the struggle.

Any New Yorker, including members of a future jury, will have had several encounters with mental illness on the subway.

Most jurors, he says, would prefer that an ex-Marine such as Mr Penny step in to prevent a person on the subway from turning violent.

"If litigated properly this is a slam dunk acquittal," he says, calling Mr Penny a "sympathetic defendant".