Jordan Neely was a homeless man and Michael Jackson impersonator who died in New York City after another subway passenger, a Marine veteran, put him in a chokehold, an incident captured on viral video.
The 24-year-old Marine in the video has been identified as Daniel Penny of West Islip, New York, according to a news release emailed to Heavy by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has now charged Penny with manslaughter in the second degree. You can read more about the charges here.
Neely’s death comes as concerns about dangerous behavior in the New York subway system escalates; in one previous incident, 10 people were shot during an active shooter incident in the Brooklyn subway, according to Axios. However, prominent New Yorkers and others have called for charges, and The New York Times reported that major crimes in the subway system dropped 16% from October 2022 through January 2023. The city’s treatment of mentally ill and homeless people has also raised concerns.
According to CBS News, the man who put Neely in a chokehold is a 24-year-old Marine veteran. CBS News reported that the man, since identified as Penny, “restrained Neely because he had been acting erratically on a train in a station in the SoHo area of Manhattan.” He was taken into custody but released without criminal charges, according to The New York Post. Authorities have not officially released his name.
“This is a solemn and serious matter that ended in the tragic loss of Jordan Neely’s life. 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,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement emailed to Heavy.
“This investigation is being handled by senior, experienced prosecutors and we will provide an update when there is additional public information to share. The Manhattan D.A.’s Office encourages anyone who witnessed or has information about this incident to call 212-335-9040.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Freelance Journalist Recorded the Viral Video, Which Shows the Fellow Passenger Holding Jordan Neely in a Chokehold Before He Goes Limp
The video was recorded by a freelance journalist named Juan Alberto Vazquez, who posted it on his Facebook page, “Luces de Nueva York.” He also posted a detailed account of what he saw, writing that Neely yelled, “I don’t have food, I don’t have to drink, I’m fed up… i don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison.. I’m ready to die.”
The video shows the Marine holding Neely in a chokehold while another man holds his arm, and other people stand around watching. At some points in the video, Neely moves his leg. Another man eventually confronts the men and says things like, “once he defecates, you have to let him go.”
According to Vazquez’s Facebook post, Neely “yelled as he removed his robe and aggressively whipped it to the floor of the wagon.”
Vazquez wrote that, although “so far the disturbed did not seem to want to attack anyone, a young man with brown hair and gray shawl grabbed him by the neck and laid him on the floor as he tied him with his legs. They were in that position for about 15 minutes while other passengers and the train operator called the police (as heard in the video). The Uniforms, btw, never arrived.”
According to Vazquez, “other Samaritans stepped in to aid the warrior and prevent the other from escaping. One of them, who had recently tackled with a woman, seemed to mediate between the two fighting on the floor.” He said that he had to be somewhere in Yonkers so “when they released the captive already unarmed I left the scene and stopped filming. At the end you can see how the aggressive man stands idle after the tenacity in his neck in a consequence that reminded me of George Floyd’s. It’s possible that he died in those moments.”
“It was a very tense situation because you don’t know what he’s going to do afterwards,” Vazquez told The New York Times.
He told the Times of the Marine, “I am confused now because I’m not sure how to think about what the young man did. He was trying to help.” He said that at the time, no one thought Neely, 30, might die.
“None of us were thinking that,” he told The Times. “He was moving and he was defending himself.”
Vazquez told The New York Post that Neely “barged into the train at the Second Avenue station — and quickly began screaming and yelling at riders, prompting many to move away.” He told The Post, “I think that in one sense it’s fine that citizens want to jump in and help. But I think as heroes we have to use moderation. This would never have happened if the police had shown up within five minutes. Then we’d be talking about a true hero. It’s complicated.”
ABC7 reported that, as the 24 year old man restrained Neely, “he asked fellow passengers to call 911,” according to police. ABC7 described Neely as “harassing” other subway riders.
2. Jordan Neely, Who Was Previously Arrested 42 Times by the NYPD, Died From ‘Compression of Neck,’ the Medical Examiner Ruled
The New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner told CBS News that Neely’s cause of death was determined to be “compression of neck” or a “chokehold.” According to CBS News, the death was ruled a “homicide” by the medical examiner’s office.
However, a medical examiner’s determination of homicide is not a determination of criminal homicide. Whether the man who placed Neely in a chokehold will be criminally charged is a decision that will ultimately be made by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. According to The New York Times, police “had not declared the death a homicide or announced arrests as of Tuesday” May 2, 2023.
Heavy has reached out to the office of the medical examiner for additional details.
According to the New York Daily News, Neely was arrested 42 times in the past 10 years by the New York Police Department and “had a documented mental health history with police.”
He was most recently arrested in November 2021 on felony assault charges after being accused of “slugging a 67-year-old female stranger in the face,” Daily News reported, adding that a warrant was issued in that case.
3. Jordan Neely, a Well-Known Michael Jackson Impersonator, ‘Experienced a Mental Health Episode on the Subway,’ According to Reverend Al Sharpton, Who Compared the Case to the Vigilantism of Bernie Goetz
Reverend Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network (NAN), said in a news release that Jordan Neely was “the reportedly homeless man” who “experienced a mental health episode on the subway.”
According to Sharpton’s release, “disturbing video shows a passenger put Neely, 30, into a chokehold on an F train Monday until he lost consciousness. Neely, who was a well-known Michael Jackson impersonator on subways and in Times Square, later died at Lenox Hill Hospital. The passenger was taken into custody by police but released Monday night without charges.”
“The National Action Network demands the District Attorney and police investigate this horrific incident as a potential case of manslaughter – if not murder,” Sharpton said in the release. “Thirty years ago, I fought the Bernard Goetz case and we cannot end up back to a place where vigilantism is tolerable. It wasn’t acceptable then and it cannot be acceptable now. We hope the family of Jordan Neely will come forward so NAN can ensure he is funeralized properly and decently.”
According to Britannica, Goetz was an “American vigilante who rose to national fame when he shot four African American males on a New York City subway train on December 22, 1984.” He was convicted only of criminal possession of a handgun after arguing self defense, Britannica reported.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted: “Jordan Neely was murdered. But bc Jordan was houseless and crying for food in a time when the city is raising rents and stripping services to militarize itself while many in power demonize the poor, the murderer gets protected w/ passive headlines + no charges. It’s disgusting.”
Comptroller Brad Lander tweeted, “NYC is not Gotham. We must not become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence. Or where the killer is justified & cheered.”
4. A Homeless Advocate Wrote that Jordan Neely’s Death & the Lack of Charges Shows the City of New York’s ‘Callous Indifference to the Lives’ of Homeless, Mentally Ill People, But Mayor Eric Adams Said People Should Let the Investigation Unfold
New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former police officer, told CNN, “It’s still ongoing.” He said “our hearts go out to the family,” calling it a “terrible incident.”
“Now it’s in the hands of the investigators,” Adams said, saying there were “so many unknowns.” He called the comments of Comptroller Brad Lander and Ocasio-Cortez irresponsible, saying it was “not the right thing to do” to interfere in the case while it is still being investigated.
Adams said each situation “is different.” He added, “We don’t know what happened here,” saying that he was a former transit officer. “We should allow the investigation to take its course.”
CNN reported that Neely was acting erratically on the subway but had not attacked anyone.
Dave Giffen, Executive Director with Coalition for the Homeless, said in a statement: “This horrific incident is yet another reminder of Governor Hochuls’ and Mayor Adams’ complete failure to provide the critical mental health services desperately needed by so many people in our city.”
Giffin added: “What’s more, the fact that someone who took the life of a distressed, mentally-ill human being on a subway could be set free without facing any consequences is shocking, and evidences the City’s callous indifference to the lives of those who are homeless and psychiatrically unwell. This is an absolute travesty that must be investigated immediately.”
According to France24, Neely’s death has sparked protests. Kyle Ishmael, a 38-year-old Harlem resident, told France24: “I couldn’t believe this was happening on my subway in my city that I grew up in.”
5. Jordan Neely’s Father Says Neely Was Never the Same After His Mother Was Murdered
Andre Zachery, Neely’s father, told The New York Daily News that Neely was interested in Michael Jackson since he was 4-years-old.
“He looked just like him,” Zachery, who lives in the Bronx, told Daily News. “He used to perform on the block. One day, people were loving him.”
According to Zachery, Neely vanished from his life four years before his death and was never the same after his mother was murdered in New Jersey in 2007.
“He didn’t care anymore after that,” Zachery told the Daily News, adding that his son was autistic, a high school dropout, and did not always take his medications. “Once his mother died … They were very close. He loved her so much that he just lost it. After we buried her, he just wasn’t the same anymore.”
Whitney Simon wrote on Facebook,
His name was Jordan Neely. I grew up from childhood with this man. He literally lived in the same building complex as me and my siblings. This man was a normal kid before his mother was murdered when he was just 14 years old! Imagine losing your only support at that young vulnerable age. Imagine living with that devastation yet alone finding yourself homeless due to absolute tragedy at 14 years old!😢The human mind is fragile. Anyone of us could have been Jordan given the circumstances!! No charges?!for the murder of an unarmed person?? Suffering from mental illness warrants justifiable Murder?? A verbal threat at best justifies being choked to death??🤯🤬😥😢
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