(NEW YORK) — New York City Mayor Eric Adams condemned the death of Jordan Neely Wednesday, who died after a fellow subway passenger was captured on video putting him in a chokehold.
“Jordan Neely did not deserve to die,” Adams said in prepared remarks Wednesday amid growing calls for an arrest in the case, including from Neely’s family.
“Jordan Neely’s life mattered. He was suffering from severe mental illness, but that was not the cause of his death. His death is a tragedy that never should have happened,” the mayor said, referring to Neely as “a Black man like me.”
“No family should have to suffer a loss like this,” Adams said.
Adams, a moderate Democrat, has been criticized by progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for not more strongly condemning the actions of the individual who put Neely in the chokehold. In his first comments on the incident last week, Adams said in a statement, in part, “Any loss of life is tragic. There’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here, so I’m going to refrain from commenting further.”
A grand jury is likely to weigh in on the case as soon as this week, law enforcement sources told ABC News. A grand jury would determine whether criminal charges are warranted, according to the sources.
Neely, a homeless man, died after another subway passenger held him in a chokehold for several minutes on May 1, according to witnesses and police. The 30-year-old’s death 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 before being subdued by the other passenger.
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.
During his 15-minute remarks on Wednesday, Adams pushed for expanded mental health services. He touted a bill he introduced last year intended to give the state more authority to intervene to assist people suffering from mental illness and encouraged the legislature to pass it.
“We cannot and will not accept this state of affairs,” Adams said. “We will not walk by those in need, step over those who are suffering or ignore those calls for help. We will respond with care, compassion and action.”
The mayor did not mention the circumstances of Neely’s death or Daniel Penny, the man whom a bystander filmed putting Neely in a chokehold on the subway 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, a 24-year-old Marine veteran, was questioned by detectives and released, according to police. He reportedly told police he was not trying to kill Neely.
In a statement this week, 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.”
“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 the statement, calling it a “character assassination” of Neely, while calling for charges in the case.
“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’s family also called on the mayor to give them a call, saying, “The family wants you to know that Jordan matters.”
Protesters have called for justice following the deadly incident. Over the weekend, protesters filled subway stations, some jumping on the tracks, while pressing for more action. Several protesters have been arrested in recent days during demonstrations.
ABC News’ Kiara Alfonseca contributed to this report.
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