A grand jury in Manhattan reportedly could be convening this week to learn more about the death of Jordan Neely and determine whether to return a bill of indictment in the case, potentially paving the way for criminal proceedings to begin.
Neely died on Monday, May 1, after being placed in a 15-minute-long chokehold on a subway train by a man who police have identified as former Marine 24-year-old Daniel Penny.
The grand jury would have to decide if criminal conduct was present as they weigh charges. For the grand jurors not to indict Penny hinges on if Penny was using deadly force to protect his life or the lives of others around him while believing Neely was exerting the same type of force.
Videos that have circulated online since last week caught Penny on camera choking Neely and also show Neely falling unconscious. Witnesses who were on board the subway car at the time reported that Neely was acting erratically when he entered the train and yelling about not having anything to eat or drink. People reported that he appeared to be experiencing a mental health crisis.
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Investigators questioned Penny after the incident but let him go. A day after Neely died, a medical examiner ruled his death as a homicide.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has put senior investigators on the case.
Remarking on the investigation, the press secretary for the DA’s office, Douglas Cohen, commented, “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.”
An attorney for a Bronx-area public defender office told The New York Times that law enforcement is showcasing irregular behavior in this particular case and many potential defendants don’t receive this kind of careful and thoughtful deliberation.
“Police and prosecutors almost never apply the level of scrutiny to cases that they are extending in this instance,” said Eli Northrup, the policy director for the criminal defense practice at the Bronx Defenders. “The practice is to arrest and charge first, ask questions later, especially when the person being arrested is Black, brown or poor.”
Since Neely’s death, Penny released a statement through his attorneys, citing Neely’s alleged history of “violent and erratic behavior,” which was attributed to “ongoing and untreated mental illness,” and condemned elected officials for their disregard for mental illness.
“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,” the statement reads.
The statement also justifies Penny’s actions in the incident, saying Neely began “aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers” and “with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived.”
Freelance journalist Juan Alberto Vazquez, who was a witness during the incident, posted one video on Facebook where he wrote that while Neely seemed to be disturbed, “he did not seem to want to attack anyone.”
Penny’s lawyers wrote that “Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death.”
Neely’s family also hired legal representation for this case and is fighting back against Penny’s portrayal of the event. Their attorneys provided a detailed response to Penny’s statement on Monday calling it a “character assassination and a clear example of why he believed he was entitled to take Jordan’s life.”
The statement goes on to say, in part:In the first paragraph he talks about how “good” he is and the next paragraph he talks about how “bad” Jordan was in an effort to convince us Jordan’s life was “worthless.” The truth is, he knew nothing about the Jordans history when he intentionally wrapped his arms around Jordan’s neck, and squeezed and kept squeezing. In the last paragraph, Daniel Penny suggests that the general public has shown “indifference” for people like Jordan, but that term is more appropriately used to describe himself. 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. 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.
One of their lawyers, Donte Mills, told Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC’s “PoliticsNation” that Neely struggled and “had demons” ever since his mother’s vicious murder when he was 14. Family members said he never fully recovered and was homeless at the time of his death.
Neely’s death has sparked arguments over the treatment of mentally ill, unhoused people and conversations about the ethics of vigilantism and the correct circumstances where such behavior should be applied.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul gave remarks on Thursday about the incident. When asked about how subway riders should respond to people boarding the trains acting erratically, she responded by saying, “It’s a case-by-case situation.”
However, she denounced the case stating that it was clear that Neely “was not going to cause harm to these other people” and called the responses of Penny and two other passengers seen on video restraining Neely “extreme.” Hochul said she approved the district attorney’s review of the case.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams offered no strong opinion on the incident. When asked on CNN what passengers should do when faced with people having mental health episodes, he said, “Each situation is different. … We cannot just blanketly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that. We should allow the investigation to take its course.”
Over the last week, demonstrations have broken out all over New York City with fierce, widespread calls from the public to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to indict Penny and prosecute the case.
On Saturday, some demonstrators took to the subway rails at a station on Lexington Avenue and 63 Street to stand on tracks and protest while disrupting train service.
Officers who responded to the scene were able to remove people from the tracks, but they continued protesting on the platform. The demonstrations escalated with police and protestors clashing in a few instances. Fox 5 New York reports that 13 people were arrested as a result.