By JAKE OFFENHARTZ and MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — A grand jury has indicted a man who put an agitated New York City subway rider in a fatal chokehold, prosecutors confirmed Thursday.
Daniel Penny was initially charged with manslaughter last month in the May 1 death of Jordan Neely, a former Michael Jackson impersonator who struggled in recent years with homelessness and mental illness.
A spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg confirmed the grand jury voted to indict, adding the specific charges will be unveiled at a scheduled June 28 arraignment. Penny had initially been charged with manslaughter in the second degree, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but a grand jury’s approval of charges was needed for the case to continue.
Neely was shouting at passengers and begging for money when Penny, a former U.S. Marine, pinned him to the floor of the moving subway car with the help of two other riders. Penny then held Neely in a chokehold that lasted more than three minutes until his body went limp.
Penny has said he was protecting himself and other passengers, claiming Neely shouted “I’m gonna’ kill you” and that he was “ready to die” or go to jail for life.
“He was yelling in their faces saying these threats,” Penny said in a video released by his attorneys this week. “I just couldn’t sit still.”
A freelance journalist who recorded Neely struggling to free himself, then lapsing into unconsciousness, said he was acting aggressively and frightening people but hadn’t assaulted anyone. Neely was Black. Penny is white.
Neely’s death prompted protests by many who saw it as an example of racial injustice, setting off a debate about vigilantism and public safety in New York City. Several commentators, including Rev. Al Sharpton, compared the chokehold death to the Bernhard Goetz case in 1984, in which a white gunman shot four Black men on a subway train.
Others have rallied around Penny, including several of the Republican candidates for president. A fund set up to pay for Penny’s legal defense has raised more than $2.8 million, according to his lawyers.
The attorneys, Steven Raiser and Thomas Keniff, said they were confident that a trial jury would find Penny’s actions on the train justified.
“While we respect the decision of the grand jury to move this case forward to trial, it should be noted that the standard of proof in a grand jury is very low and there has been no finding of wrongdoing,” they said.
In a statement, attorneys for the Neely family — Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards — said the grand jury’s decisions “tells our city and our nation that ‘no one is above the law’ no matter how much money they raise, no matter what affiliations they claim, and no matter what distorted stories they tell.”
Neely, 30, had been arrested multiple times and had recently pleaded guilty to assaulting a 67-year-old woman leaving a subway station in 2021.
Penny, 24, was released on $100,000 bond following a May 12 court appearance.
In a statement on Wednesday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams said the indictment would allow for justice to move forward.
“I appreciate DA Bragg conducting a thorough investigation into the death of Jordan Neely,” he 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.”