By Gwynne Hogan, THE CITY. Additional reporting by Hasani Gittens.
Lawyers for the family of Jordan Neely on Friday called on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg to amp up charges against Daniel Penny to murder — the same day Penny was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Neely’s father Andre Zachery blotted tears from his cheeks while wrapping his arm around Neely’s aunt, Mildred Mahazu, as they joined their lawyers at a press conference on a Midtown sidewalk, though neither family member spoke to reporters directly.
“We’re pausing to recognize that we’ve taken the first step, a step in the right direction. We’re closer now to justice than a week ago,” said attorney Lennon Edwards, who is representing the family and spoke on their behalf at the press conference.
Edwards added: “Justice looks like a conviction, and justice looks like a conviction for murder.”
His law partner Donte Mills echoed that the family still wants Bragg to bring new charges against Penny.
“It should be murder because [Penny] knew what would happen,” Mills said.
Bragg said his office had interviewed “numerous witnesses” and carefully reviewed video footage and other evidence from the incident to come up with the manslaughter charge.
“After an evaluation of the available facts and evidence, the Manhattan D.A.’s Office determined there was probable cause to arrest Daniel Penny and arraign him on felony charges,” Bragg said. Doug Cohen, a spokesperson for Bragg’s office, declined to provide additional comment on Neely’s attorneys’ remarks.
Penny, a 24-year-old former Marine, surrendered to authorities Friday morning and was arraigned on one count of manslaughter in the second degree, a class C felony, later that day.
No Report of Force by Neely
If convicted, Penny faces a minimum of five years of probation and a maximum of 15 years in prison, confirmed Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the New York state court system.
Penny was released on $100,000 bond and must surrender his passports and stay in New York unless a court grants a travel waiver, prosecutors said. Penny grew up on Long Island, according to reports, and lives in New York City where he attends college, prosecutors said. He’s due back in court on July 17.
Penny’s attorneys, Thomas A. Kenniff — who ran against Bragg for Manhattan DA — and his law partner Steven Raiser have maintained that Penny was acting in self-defense to protect himself and other subway riders.
“We are confident that once all the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic incident are brought to bear, Mr. Penny will be fully absolved of any wrongdoing,” the two said in a joint statement.
Eyewitness accounts of the moments leading up to Neely’s killing have described Neely acting erratically, asking for food and throwing his jacket on the ground. No account has emerged thus far that Neely used force or had a weapon.
In the courtroom Friday, assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass said eyewitnesses said Neely was “making threats and scaring passengers” when Penny, “approached Mr. Neely from behind and placed him in a chokehold, taking him down to the ground.”
Penny’s arraignment came twelve days after he put Neely in a fatal chokehold on a subway train in Lower Manhattan, a killing in broad daylight captured on video.
The Civilian Complaint Review Board is investigating the NYPD’s initial handling of Penny and the decision not to arrest him at the scene, confirmed Clio Calvo-Platero, a spokesperson for the Board. The New York Post first reported the probe.
Edwards, representing the Neely family, argued that since Penny was a trained Marine he would have known a chokehold would be fatal, and could have used a non-lethal restraint on Neely, like a bear hug.
“Daniel Penny intentionally chose a technique to use that is designed to cut off air,” Edwards said at the press conference Friday morning. “And he chose to continue to hold that, minute after minute, second after second, until there was no life left in Jordan Neely.”
Relatives and friends described Neely, 30, as a gifted dancer who was known for his uncanny Michael Jackson impersonation. His mother was murdered at a young age, and, in his later years, struggled with declining mental health. In his last years he reportedly cycled in and out of jails and shelters, and was arrested several times, including on multiple assault charges. Neely was living on the streets at the time of his killing, having left a court-mandated rehab center and subsequently failing to appear in court, according to police and prosecutors.
Neely’s killing has stunned and divided New Yorkers and touched off days of protests that were met with violent crackdowns by police. Those on the left of the political spectrum have called Neely’s killing a “murder” or a modern-day “lynching.” Those on the right have rushed to Penny’s defense, calling him a “hero.”
Two dueling fundraisers organized in the wake of Neely’s killing mirrored that divide. By Friday, an online fundraiser for Danny Penny’s legal defense had raised more than $245,000, three times what a fund for Jordan Neely’s memorial had raised. GoFundMe confirmed the validity of Neely’s fundraiser. Penny’s attorneys didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the validity of the fundraiser on his behalf.
His killing has sparked a fierce debate on how New York City handles homelessness and mental illness on its subways. In an address on Tuesday, Mayor Eric Adams did not mention Penny’s name, or that he killed Neely. Instead Adams returned to familiar talking points about committing more mentally ill people to a hospital against their will and calling for changes to state law to make that easier.
“Severe mental illness causes this critical lack of insight that the only way they can be helped is through intervention. This is precisely why we need the law on our side,” he said. “We need the tools to get people into treatment at critical moments when they are simply unable to self-direct.”
Johnny Grima, 38, a formerly homeless New Yorker and homeless rights activist, who happened to witness the aftermath of Neely’s killing on May 1, said Adams’ words are a distraction from the underlying issue; that people struggling with homelessness and mental illness need stable housing.
“They really want to get homeless people out of sight. Let’s find reasons to cart you off somewhere. Let’s find reasons to cart you off to the psych ward. Let’s find reasons to cart you off to jail,” Grima said. “But not to housing.”
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