Man pleads not guilty in New York City subway chokehold killing

Killing of Black man by fellow subway rider sparked protests that led to eventual charges of manslaughter.

Daniel Penny arrives for his arraignmen
Daniel Penny says he was defending himself and other subway passengers when he pinned Jordan Neely to the floor of a moving New York City subway car with the help of two other passengers and held him in a chokehold for more than three minutes [John Minchillo/AP Photo]

A white man accused of fatally strangling Jordan Neely, a homeless Black man, in a chokehold in a New York City subway car last month has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Daniel Penny, a former United States marine sergeant, was captured in videos recorded by bystanders putting Neely in a chokehold from behind for several minutes on May 1 while they rode a subway train in Manhattan. He was aided by two other passengers who helped hold Neely down.

The killing drew national attention and sparked protests by people angered that police did not immediately arrest Penny. Penny was arrested more than a week later.

He first appeared in Manhattan Criminal Court on May 12, was released on a $100,000 bond and ordered to surrender his passport.

After that hearing, a grand jury indicted Penny on June 14 on charges of manslaughter in the second degree, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and criminally negligent homicide, a felony with a maximum sentence of five years.

The indictment was unsealed at Wednesday’s arraignment, which lasted a few minutes. Penny, dressed in a blue suit and red tie, pleaded not guilty and was told to return to court on October 25 for a pretrial hearing.

In the minutes before he was killed, Neely, a 30-year-old former Michael Jackson impersonator who struggled with mental illness, had been shouting about how hungry he was and that he was willing to return to jail or die, according to passengers in the subway car.

Penny said he acted to defend himself and other passengers and did not intend to kill Neely. He has been hailed as a hero by prominent Republican politicians. Protesters have decried Penny as a vigilante and described Neely’s death as a lynching.

Penny was questioned by police on the day of Neely’s death but would not be arrested or make an initial court appearance until 11 days later.

Witnesses said Neely did not physically threaten or attack anyone before Penny grabbed him. His killing renewed debate about gaps in the city’s systems for homeless and mentally ill New Yorkers.

Neely had been in and out of the city’s homeless shelters in recent years, and his family said his mental health had worsened dramatically after his mother was murdered when he was a teenager. He had been arrested many times, most recently for punching a 67-year-old woman in 2021, breaking bones in her face.

Source: Reuters