Prosecutors in Manhattan on Wednesday defended their decision to file manslaughter charges against a former Marine accused of strangling a mentally ill homeless man on the subway. They insisted Daniel Penny knew what he was doing and rejected his claim that he was protecting other passengers.
Penny, 24, was charged in the May 1 death of Jordan Neely, 30.
Neely, a former Michael Jackson impersonator, had long struggled with mental health issues and was in the midst of a breakdown when Penny came across him.
Neely was ranting and screaming, and Penny grabbed him from behind, wrestled him to the ground and held him for six minutes until he passed out.
Neely’s family applauded the decision to criminally charge Penny, but Penny filed a motion to dismiss the case on October 10.
Daniel Penny, 24, (left) has been charged with manslaughter in the May 1 death of Jordan Neely (right), who put Penny in a chokehold on the New York City subway
Penny, with the help of two other passengers, pinned Neely to the ground and held him in a chokehold for six minutes
Penny’s lawyers argued that Neely was a threat to other passengers, and Penny acted to protect them.
But prosecutors denied Wednesday that Neely was threatening and said Penny would have known his actions could be fatal.
“It is certainly true that several passengers testified that they were scared,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass wrote in the filing.
‘However, the defense’s argument omitted the stories that undermine the idea of unbridled and universal panic.’
Steinglass added, “As one witness put it, “For me it was just another typical day in New York. That’s what I’m used to seeing. I wasn’t really looking at whether I was going to be threatened or anything like that, but it was a little bit different because, you know, you don’t really hear anyone say something like that.”
Prosecutors also accused Penny of holding Neely significantly longer than necessary, even when people felt threatened.
NYPD officers attempt to revive Jordan Neely as he lies on the floor of an F train on May 1
Neely had been in and out of the city’s homeless shelters in recent years, and his family says his mental health deteriorated dramatically after his mother was murdered when he was a teenager.
They pointed out that the train arrived at the Broadway-Lafayette station and the door opened less than 30 seconds after the chokehold began.
“Passengers who were scared because they were stuck on the train were now able to get off the train,” Steinglass said.
“The defendant continued to hold Mr. Neely’s neck.”
Steinglass said second-degree manslaughter only requires prosecutors to prove that Penny acted recklessly, and not intentionally.
“The defendant held Jordan Neely on the ground with his arm around Mr. Neely’s neck,” he wrote.
“He did that with enough force and long enough to kill Jordan Neely.
“Not only did the chokehold last approximately six minutes, but it continued for almost another minute past the point where Mr. Neely ceased all purposeful movements.”
He pointed out that Penny held onto Neely even when other passengers told him to let the man go.
“The arrest seemed so unnecessary at the time that an eyewitness can be heard on video urging the defendant to let Mr. Neely go and warning the defendant that “if you don’t let him go now, you’re going to kill him.” Steinglas said.
Steinglass also rejected Penny’s argument that Neely’s death was “unforeseeable,” highlighting Penny’s military training, and “significant evidence” that that included chokeholds.
Penny entered court with his lawyers on June 28 to plead not guilty
Neely’s father is due in court on June 28
He wrote: ‘The idea that death is not the predictable consequence of squeezing someone’s neck for six minutes is beyond all boundaries.
“Defendant’s own trainer testified that although ‘chokes’ are taught as a means of non-lethal restraint, students are specifically warned during training that a choke could be fatal to the person being restrained.”
Steinglass quoted from the foreword to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program manual, which states that the “(techniques) described in this manual may cause serious injury or death.”
He added: ‘This training supports the idea that the suspect was aware of and consciously ignored a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would occur as a result of his prolonged use of a chokehold.’
Penny’s legal team will now respond to the prosecution’s arguments.
The Long Islander remains free on $100,000 bail and faces up to 19 years behind bars if convicted.