NEW YORK – A man charged with manslaughter for putting an agitated New York City subway rider in a fatal chokehold has been indicted by a grand jury, an expected procedural step that will allow the criminal case to continue.
Daniel Penny was charged by Manhattan prosecutors 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.
Grand jury proceedings are secret and spokespeople for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg declined to comment Wednesday, but the indictment was confirmed by New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
“I appreciate DA Bragg conducting a thorough investigation into the death of Jordan Neely. 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," Adams said in a statement.
Neely was shouting at passengers and begging for money when Penny pinned him to the floor of the moving subway car with the help of two other riders. Penny, a former U.S. Marine, then held Neely in a chokehold that lasted more than three minutes.
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.
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.
Penny's lawyers, Steven Raiser and Thomas Kenniff, said in a statement that Neely had not intended to kill Neely, just hold him until police arrived.
"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. We’re confident that when a trial jury is tasked with weighing the evidence, they will find Daniel Penny’s actions on that train were fully justified,” Raiser said.
Neely’s death prompted protests by many who saw it as an example of racial injustice, but some people 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.
Penny, 24, was released on $100,000 bond following his May 12 arraignment. He will need to return to court to be arraigned on the new indictment.
Under New York law, prosecutors needed a grand jury indictment to move forward with the case.
If convicted, Penny could face years in prison.