The man charged with second-degree manslaughter after fatally choking a homeless man on a New York City subway train has spoken publicly about the incident for the first time.
Daniel Penny, who is white, toldThe New York Post that Jordan Neely’s death had “nothing to do with race” and everything to do with “a system that so desperately failed us”. Neely, a 30-year-old street performer who was experiencing homelessness, was Black.
Cellphone footage of the incident on 1 May showed Mr Penny wrapping his arm around Neely’s neck and wrestling him in a chokehold on the floor of a Manhattan F train. Witnesses confirmed that Neely did not physically attack anyone on the train that day.
Police arrived to find Neely was unresponsive, and he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. A medical examiner’s report issued two days later determined his death was a homicide, due to the compression against his neck.
“I judge a person based on their character. I’m not a white supremacist,” Mr Penny told The Post. “I mean, it’s, it’s a little bit comical. Everybody who’s ever met me can tell you, I love all people, I love all cultures. You can tell by my past and all my travels and adventures around the world. I was actually planning a road trip through Africa before this happened.”
The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg determined there was probable cause to charge Mr Penny on 12 May after several witness interviews, a review of photo and video evidence, and a discussion with the medical examiner’s office.
Mr Penny was charged with second-degree manslaughter and released on $100,000 bond. He did not enter a plea. His next court appearance is 17 July.
“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,” Mr Bragg said in a statement after Mr Penny’s court appearance.
“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life,” Mr Penny told The Post this weekend. “It’s tragic what happened to him. Hopefully, we can change the system that so desperately failed us.”
He suggested that he would have acted similarly if he faced a similar situation.
Mr Penny, a college student from Long Island’s Suffolk County, served in the US Marines as a rifleman from 2017 to 2021 and reached the rank of sergeant, according to military records.
Mr Penny, who lives in Manhattan’s East Village, was traveling to his gym on West 23rd Street when Neely boarded the train, according to The Post.
Witnesses stated that Neely, who was experiencing a mental health crisis in the days and months leading up to his death, walked into the train car loudly complaining of hunger and thirst, said he was not afraid to go to jail or die, then threw his jacket to the ground before Mr Penny grabbed him from behind and wrestled him to the ground.
Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass described the events similarly in a statement in Manhattan Criminal Court on 12 May.
“Jordan Neely entered the northbound F train at approximately 2nd Avenue in Manhattan. Several witnesses observed Mr Neely making threats and scaring passengers,” he stated.
“The defendant approached Mr Neely from behind and placed him in a chokehold, taking him down to the ground,” where Mr Penny held him for several minutes after the train reached the Broadway-Lafayette platform, according to the statement. Two other men helped restrain Neely by pinning his arms, and “at some point Mr Neely stopped moving,” Mr Steinglass stated.
Attorneys for Mr Penny said in a statement shared with The Independent last week that they are “confident” he will be “fully absolved of any wrongdoing” when all the “facts and circumstances” emerge.
“When Mr Penny, a decorated Marine veteran, stepped in to protect himself and his fellow New Yorkers, his well-being was not assured. He risked his own life and safety, for the good of his fellow passengers,” according to the statement from the firm Raiser and Kenniff.
“The unfortunate result was the unintended and unforeseen death of Mr Neely,” they wrote.
The case surrounding Neely’s killing has sparked widespread debate and protests traversing issues of race, criminal justice, urgently needed care for people experiencing homelessness and support for mentally ill New Yorkers.
Mr Penny’s case also has drawn support from right-wing media and pundits, helping raise his legal defense fund on a conservative Christian crowd-funding platform to more than $2.7million, as of 21 May.
Neely’s family held a funeral service at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem on 19 May.
“Jordan was screaming for help. We keep criminalizing people with mental illness,” the Rev Al Sharpton said during a eulogy. “They don’t need abuse, they need help.”
Neely’s family and the legal team supporting them have repeatedly characterised Mr Penny as the sole aggressor who escalated Neely’s distress to lethal violence.
“Daniel Penny is getting a chance to rewrite his story as time goes by,” Lennon Edwards said during a news conference in Manhattan on 12 May. “He cannot rewrite how the story ends. The story ends with his arms wrapped around Jordan’s neck and choking him to death.”