Former US Marine charged with manslaughter in NYC subway choking death
By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -A former U.S. Marine sergeant who killed a homeless man by putting him in a chokehold on the New York City subway was charged with manslaughter on Friday in a Manhattan criminal court, hours after he surrendered to police.
A viral video showed Daniel Penny putting 30-year-old Jordan Neely in a chokehold on May 1 while they rode on an F train in Manhattan. Neely died from a compression of the neck, the medical examiner said, but Penny's lawyers said their client did not mean to kill him.
According to witnesses, Neely, who was known to impersonate Michael Jackson in the subway system, was complaining loudly about being hungry and saying he was ready to die when Penny came up behind him, gripped him around the neck and restrained him on the floor of the subway car.
Neely then appeared to stop moving, and was later declared dead.
Penny, 24, was arraigned on one count of second-degree manslaughter in Manhattan Criminal Court, where Judge Kevin McGrath released him on $100,000 bond and ordered him to surrender his passport. He is due back in court on July 17.
Penny was handcuffed when he entered the room and was not in handcuffs when he exited.
"Mr. Penny not only has ties to this community, he has in fact been a pillar of the community," his lawyer Thomas Kenniff said during the hearing.
In a statement after the hearing, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said prosecutors decided to charge Penny after interviewing eyewitnesses, reviewing footage and speaking with medical examiners.
"Jordan Neely should still be alive today, and my thoughts continue to be with his family," Bragg said.
A bystander's video of the killing drew national attention and there were protests by those who said prosecutors delayed in charging Penny, who is white, with killing Neely, a Black man. Some said the incident amounted to a "lynching" and an example of "white vigilantism" against people of color.
Joshua Steinglass, a prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney's office, said during the hearing that Penny continued to hold Neely after the train arrived at its next stop, and after he stopped moving.
Penny's attorneys told the court that he grew up in the New York City area before serving four years in the Marine Corps. After Penny was honorably discharged, he pursued a bachelor's degree in architecture in New York City.
The U.S. Marine Corps said in a written statement on Friday that Penny served between 2017 and 2021, attaining the rank of sergeant. He received several awards, including the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.
In an earlier statement from his legal team, Penny expressed "condolences to those close to Mr. Neely." The statement alleged that Neely had aggressively threatened passengers riding in the subway car and that Penny could not have foreseen his death.
Donte Mills, a lawyer representing Neely's family, told reporters on Friday that Penny should be held criminally liable for taking the law into his own hands.
"We don't want it that you can kill someone because you thought there was the possibility they could do something to you," Mills said. "Mr. Neely did not attack anyone, but he was choked to death."
The video of Neely's death revived a debate among New Yorkers about crime in the subway and how to deal with a growing number of homeless people in the city.
A spate of attacks on train passengers last year, particularly Asian Americans, prompted New York City Mayor Eric Adams to increase police patrols and expand outreach to the mentally ill in the subway system.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Additional reporting by Brad Brooks; Writing by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)