(NEW YORK) — The family of Jordan Neely, a homeless man who died after allegedly being put into a chokehold by Daniel Penny during an altercation on a New York City subway on May 1, has responded to Penny’s statement on the death.
They called Penny’s response a “character assassination” of Neely.
Attorneys for Penny offered “condolences to those close to Mr. Neely” and claimed “Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel,” and that the Marine veteran and others “acted to protect themselves.”
In footage of the incident, Penny can be seen holding Neely in a chokehold for several minutes, as another man held down Perry’s body.
Penny put Neely in the chokehold leading up to his death, which has been ruled a homicide by the medical examiner’s office. Some witnesses reportedly told police that Neely was yelling and harassing passengers on the train.
Police sources told ABC News that Penny was not specifically being threatened by Neely when he intervened and that Neely had not become violent and had not been threatening anyone in particular.
Penny, 24, was questioned by detectives and released, according to police. He told police he was not trying to kill Neely.
According to police sources, Neely had a documented mental health history. Neely had been previously arrested for several incidents on the subway, though it’s unclear how many, if any, led to convictions.
“Mr. Neely had a documented history of violent and erratic behavior, the apparent result of ongoing and untreated mental illness,” said the statement from the law firm of Raiser and Kenniff. “When Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived. Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death.”
The Neely family attorneys criticized Penny’s response.
“The truth is, he knew nothing about Jordan’s history when he intentionally wrapped his arms around Jordan‘s neck, and squeezed and kept squeezing,” said the Neely family attorneys.
“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,” the statement from attorneys Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards continued.
Neely family attorneys called on Mayor Eric Adams to give them a call: “The family wants you to know that Jordan matters. You seem to think others are more important than him. You cannot ‘assist’ someone with a chokehold.”
The mayor, who has been outspoken about addressing crime in the city, called Neely’s death “tragic,” but refrained from commenting further as “there’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here.”
“We do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here, which is why our administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people off the streets and the subways, and out of dangerous situations,” Adams told reporters last week. “And I need all elected officials and advocacy groups to join us in prioritizing getting people the care they need and not just allowing them to languish.”
Neely’s death has prompted protests throughout the city, including one that blocked a subway train.
NYC Comptroller Brad Lander and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have spoken out over Neely’s death.
“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,” Lander said in a tweet.
Ocasio-Cortez called for Penny’s arrest in a series of tweets.
Gov. Kathy Hochul called Neely’s death a “wake-up call” for officials facing the nation’s mental health crisis.
The Manhattan DA’s office encourages anyone who witnessed the incident or might have information to also call 212-335-9040.
The case is likely headed to a grand jury next week, law enforcement sources said.
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