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Former Marine Charged in Jordan Neely’s Death. Here’s What to Know

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Updated: | Originally published:

The former marine who placed a 30-year-old homeless man in a fatal chokehold on an NYC subway earlier this month has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after many called for his arrest.

On Friday, Daniel Penny, 24, turned himself into the New York City police department and appeared in court before being released on bond. He has not yet entered a plea, but his lawyers have argued he was acting in self-defense.

Prosecutors said they’re seeking a grand jury indictment in the case.

On May 1, Jordan Neely, was on a Manhattan F train and had been reportedly screaming about being hungry, thirsty, and tired when he was pinned down and placed in a chokehold by Penny.

When officers arrived on the scene, Neely was unconscious. He was transported to the hospital where he later died, according to the New York Police Department. Penny was questioned by police after the incident and then let go.

In a four-minute long video circulating online, Neely can be seen on the floor as other passengers helped restrain him for several minutes. Some initially praised the former Marine as a good Samaritan, but city officials and advocates began calling for an arrest in the case.

The New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner officially ruled the death a homicide on May 3, and protests began at subway stations around the city and on social media, calling for justice and referring to Neely’s death as a lynching.

“This is not an issue of public safety,” Dave Giffen, executive director for the Coalition for the Homeless, a New York City-based nonprofit, says. “As much as the mayor wants to cast it as that, homeless people are far more likely to be a victim of a violent crime scenario than to be perpetrators of violent crimes.”

Here’s what to know:

Ruled a homicide

Neely died in the hospital on Monday afternoon, and on Wednesday the city’s chief medical examiner determined his cause of death to be “compression of the neck.” His death was ruled a homicide, which means his death was caused by another person, without equating that to intentional murder or culpability.

“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,” a statement from the District Attorney’s office said last week.

Per New York law, a person is permitted to use physical force on someone else to defend themself or others, but can only use deadly force if they have reason to believe that their life is threatened.

New York City’s homeless community has had a tumultuous year, following controversial policies from Mayor Eric Adams, including increased police presence around subway stations and homeless encampments.

Public response

Many have pointed out how Neely’s death reflects the disproportionate number of BIPOC homeless individuals in the U.S, and how they’re frequently targets of violence. In New York specifically, over 80% of homeless individuals are Black or Hispanic, while comprising only 53% of the city’s population.

Neely’s choking by a white man prompted some to question if the attack was racially motivated and why the alleged assailant is free. “The murderer gets protected w/ passive headlines + no charges. It’s disgusting,” New York Representative Alexandria Occasio-Cortez tweeted May 3, before Penny was charged with manslaughter.

“It’s just beyond comprehension that the attacker was not charged,” Giffen said. “This was an incident of an ex-marine on a subway car, brutally murdering another human being because he found that human beings behavior, inconvenient or disruptive,” Giffen says.

Chandra Crawford, the chief equity officer at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Black individuals and minorities who experience homelessness face a “double whammy” of stigma.

“You have a negative construction of a person experiencing homelessness, and then it’s coupled with that negative and fearful image of a Black man,” Crawford says. “We know that you don’t necessarily have to be a person experiencing homelessness to face danger, because of the darkness of your skin.”

Protestors have held vigils, handed out pamphlets and are demanding better social services for unhoused people and for law enforcement to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.

“NYC is not Gotham,” the city’s Comptroller, Brad Landon tweeted May 2. “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.”

Roughly 20 – 25% of the U.S. homeless population suffers from some form of severe mental illness, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“In general, anybody who is living unsheltered, or in shelters for that matter, and has psychiatric disabilities, wants to get treatment. It’s rare to find people that don’t want to get housing and to get help,” Giffen says.

“From what I understand, Jordan Neely did want help at the time that he was killed. He was expressing his frustration of not being able to get to some of the basic items of survival that any human being needs,” Giffen adds.

Penny is set to return to court on July 17.

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