Grand jury indicts ex-marine in chokehold death on US subway

Daniel Penny has said he did not mean to kill performer Jordan Neely, whose death sparked protests in New York City.

A protestor holds a sign showing some of Neely's last attributed words
A protester holds up words attributed to Jordan Neely, who died after being placed in a chokehold on a New York subway car [File: Jake Offenhartz/AP Photo]

A grand jury in New York City has voted in favour of indicting former United States marine Daniel Penny for placing a man in a chokehold on a subway car, leading to his death.

Wednesday’s indictment will allow the criminal case against Penny to move forward, as outrage continues to simmer over the May 1 killing of Jordan Neely, a local street performer with a history of homelessness and mental health issues.

In a statement, New York Mayor Eric Adams applauded Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for his work on the case. Bragg’s office filed a felony charge of second-degree manslaughter against Penny on May 12, amid intense public scrutiny and criticism over the delay in the marine’s arrest.

“I appreciate DA Bragg conducting a thorough investigation into the death of Jordan Neely,” Adams said. “Like I said when the DA first brought charges, I have the utmost faith in the judicial process, and now that the grand jury has indicted Daniel Penny, a trial and justice can move forward.”

The charge or charges in the grand jury indictment have yet to be unsealed. Penny is expected to appear in court at a later date.

Penny has claimed he only wanted to subdue Neely, who was exhibiting erratic behaviour while riding the subway car. But Neely’s killing has reignited debate over issues such as mental health resources, public safety and the racial divides in the US.

Neely, who often danced in costume as the late pop star Michael Jackson, was reportedly shouting on the subway when Penny pinned him to the ground and held him in a chokehold for more than three minutes, an act that was captured on cellphone video.

Penny has stated that Neely had yelled, “I’m gonna kill you”, and that he was “ready to die”. Lawyers for the former marine have said he and other subway passengers “acted to protect themselves” by restraining Neely.

But witnesses have said that Neely did not physically threaten or attack anyone before he was pinned down. Neely also reportedly yelled out, “I want food!”

Footage of Penny’s chokehold quickly went viral, sparking protests in and around the New York subway stop close to where Neely was killed. In the video, passengers off-screen can be heard asking where the police are. One warns Penny that the chokehold might be killing Neely.

A medical examiner later ruled that the death was a homicide resulting from “compression of neck”.

The case, however, has been highlighted by both sides of the political spectrum as evidence of wider societal problems.

New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez posted on Twitter about the barriers to accessing “social safety net support”, and her fellow Representative Ayanna Pressley compared the killing to a lynching. Penny is white; Neely is Black.

Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, meanwhile, has called Penny a “good Samaritan” and raised funds for his defence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies