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Family of Jordan Neely criticizes subway chokeholder’s ‘indifference’ as prosecutors meet with medical examiner’s office

<i>Paul Martinka/AP</i><br/>In a statement last week
Paul Martinka/AP
In a statement last week

By Jason Carroll, Omar Jimenez, Nicole Grether and Eric Levenson, CNN

The family of Jordan Neely, the man who was held in a chokehold and died on the subway in New York last week, issued a statement criticizing the “indifference” of the man who restrained Neely and calling for his imprisonment, while prosecutors continued investigating the case.

“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,” family attorneys Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards said.

“In the first paragraph he talks about how ‘good’ he is and the next paragraph he talks about how ‘bad’ Jordan was in an effort to convince us Jordan’s life was ‘worthless,'” the attorneys said. “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.

“In the last paragraph, Daniel Penny suggests that the general public has shown ‘indifference’ for people like Jordan, but that term is more appropriately used to describe himself. It is clear he is the one who acted with indifference, both at the time he killed Jordan and now in his first public message. He never attempted to help him at all. In short, his actions on the train, and now his words, show why he needs to be in prison,” they said.

The statement was released amid growing pressure from protesters to bring criminal charges in Neely’s death. Attorneys for Penny, the 24-year-old US Marine veteran who put Neely in the fatal chokehold, have said he acted to protect himself and other riders.

The killing came as New York has tried to grapple with a growing population of unhoused people and a mental health crisis. Last year, New York City unveiled a plan to combat crime and address homelessness in the subway system, an issue that Gov. Kathy Hochul referred to as a “very real humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes for far too long.”

Prosecutors in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office conferred over the weekend, and meetings will be conducted with the New York City medical examiner’s office as well as detectives working the case this week as they continue to determine a pathway forward, a law enforcement source told CNN.

Penny was interviewed by detectives and released, the source said. The medical examiner’s office ruled the death a homicide, but prosecutors have not brought criminal charges.

In a statement last week, Penny’s attorneys expressed condolences to Neely’s family and defended his actions.

“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,” the attorneys said. “Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death.

“For too long, those suffering from mental illness have been treated with indifference. We hope that out of this awful tragedy will come a new commitment by our elected officials to address the mental health crisis on our streets and subways.”

What happened leading up to Neely’s death

Those who knew Neely said he was a talented dancer who eked out a living as a Michael Jackson impersonator in Times Square and on New York’s subways. But he fell on hard times in recent years, according to a friend and a relative, and was living on the street and struggling with his mental health.

Last Monday, Neely began shouting at passengers that he was hungry, thirsty, and had little to live aboard a subway train in downtown Manhattan.

“I don’t care if I die. I don’t care if I go to jail. I don’t have any food … I’m done,” Neely said, according to a witness.

Penny came up behind Neely and put him in a chokehold, forcing him to the floor and keeping him restrained for several minutes until he stopped breathing. Police eventually arrived to the station and administered first aid to an unconscious Neely, and he was pronounced dead later.

Neely did not interact with the passenger at all before the attack, according to Juan Alberto Vazquez, who recorded the altercation on video.

A man who was aboard the same subway train told CNN that Neely was “staring off” and “limp” after he was released from the chokehold.

“I saw that his eyes were staring off and that he was limp,” said Johnny Grima, who was watching the incident from another train car. “So I went in through another door and I said to them, ‘Put him on his side so he doesn’t choke on his own spit or something,’ and they flipped him over.”

Grima said he tried to pour water on Neely’s head, but Penny came up to him and told him to stop.

“He got over him and said, ‘Stop,'” Grima told CNN. “I should have been more on it, man, and not walked away, but I did. And they were telling people that he still had a pulse and he was breathing, alright? So like, that’s why I think people really weren’t trying.”

Grima said Penny was “commanding” and stood over Neely “until basically the police came.”

CNN has reached out to an attorney for Penny for comment on Grima’s description of the incident but has not heard back.

Grima said he took photos of Neely because he thought he was still alive and posted them to his Instagram account. He talked with a detective on Friday and provided the photos, he told CNN.

“It’s horrific what homeless people have to go through — they’re treated like something bad,” said Grima, who is formerly homeless himself.

“It’s dangerous, you know?” he added. “This is showing that people can kill homeless people when they’re having a mental health episode and it’s okay just because you felt fear.”

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s John Miller contributed to this report.

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