Jordan Neely family attorneys call statement from Daniel Penny’s legal team ‘character assassination’

Attorneys for the family of Jordan Neely have criticised a statement from the legal team representing Daniel Perry, the 24-year-old former US Marine who placed the 30-year-old homeless street performer in a fatal chokehold on a Manhattan subway car one week ago.

“Daniel Penny’s press release is not an apology nor an expression of regret. It is a character assassination and a clear example of why he believed he was entitled to take Jordan’s life,” reads the statement on 8 May from attorneys Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards.

In a statement shared with The Independent on 5 May, attorneys for Mr Penny said Neely “had a documented history of violent and erratic behavior, the apparent result of ongoing and untreated mental illness” and “began aggressively threatening” Mr Penny and others on the train.

Mr Penny’s attorneys said Mr Penny and other passengers “acted to protect themselves, until help arrived” and “never intended to harm Mr Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death” on 1 May.

Neely’s family attorneys said that Mr Penny would not have known anything about Neely’s mental health history when he wrapped his arm around him for several minutes. Neely’s death was ruled by the New York medical examiner’s office as a homicide due to compression against his neck.

The statement from Mr Penny’s attorneys with the firm Raiser and Kenniff offers condolences to Neely’s family and adds that “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,” according to the statement.

Attorneys for Neely’s family said that it was Mr Penny who showed “indifference” towards Neely’s life.

“It is clear he is the one who acted with indifference, both at the time he killed Jordan and now in his first public message,” they claimed. “He never attempted to help him at all. In short, his actions on the train, and now his words, show why he needs to be in prison.”

Mr Penny was initially questioned by police and released. No charges have been filed in the case. Prosecutors with the New York County District Attorney’s office are investigating whether to pursue charges.

A spokesperson for the office told The Independent last week that “senior, experienced prosecutors” are leading the case.

“This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life,” press secretary Douglas Cohen said. “As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the [medical examiner’s] report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records.”

The investigation is reportedly being led by veteran homicide prosecutor Joshua Steinglass.

Neely – who was experiencing a mental health crisis in the days leading up to his death – was known among social work teams involved in outreach to New York’s homeless community. He had numerous interactions with law enforcement and health responders over the years.

When he walked into a Manhattan F train on 1 May, Neely was complaining of hunger and thirst, according to journalist Juan Alberto Vasquez, who watched the incident and filmed Mr Penny grappling with Neely in a chokehold for several minutes.

Mr Vasquez said Neely was yelling that he was tired, didn’t care whether he went to prison, and was ready to die. People in the car moved away from him, and a man identified as Mr Penny then “came up behind him and grabbed him by the neck,” he told Curbed.

Neely’s death has sparked debates, protests and vigils across New York and on the city’s subway platforms, where crowds have demanded justice and pointed to the failure of a system meant to support people like Neely.

The Independent has requested comment from attorneys representing Mr Penny.