The man who put a 30-year-old man in what a medical examiner later determined as a deadly chokehold on the New York City subway Monday has been identified as a Marine infantry veteran.
Daniel J. Penny, 24, has not been charged with a crime in the death of Jordan Neely, a Michael Jackson impersonator who regularly danced in the Times Square transit hub and was homeless.
On Monday afternoon, Neely was yelling and pacing back and forth on an F train in Manhattan, witnesses and police said.
He was then was restrained by at least three people, including the Marine veteran, who pulled one arm tightly around his neck.
The incident has divided New Yorkers, with many viewing the death as an unconscionable vigilante killing that also reflects the city’s inadequate support of those with mental illnesses, as The New York Times reported.
Others, including Mayor Eric Adams, have urged the public to wait to pass judgment until an official investigation has been completed.
Penny’s lawyers said in a statement Friday that their client, whom they said was a college student, acted in self-defense.
The city’s medical examiner’s office classified Neely’s death as a homicide and the manner as a chokehold, but noted that any determination about criminal culpability would be left to the legal system.
Penny served in the Marine Corps from 2017–2021 as an infantryman, according to Marine spokesman Maj. Jim Stenger. While Penny was in the Individual Ready Reserve, he was promoted to sergeant.
He deployed to the Mediterranean with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit from December 2018 to July 2019, Stenger told Marine Corps Times on Friday.
Penny was last assigned to 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, an infantry unit that falls under 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
His military awards include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, twice, according to Stenger.
“We are aware of the incident and will cooperate with the agencies investigating this incident if asked,” Stenger said in a statement to Marine Corps Times.
“To be clear: the Marine Corps is not confirming any detail of any video you may have seen nor are we confirming any individual was involved.”
Video of the altercation posted online by a freelance journalist showed Penny lying beneath Neely, holding him in a headlock position for several minutes as Neely tried and failed to break free. A second passenger pinned Neely’s arms while a third person held down his shoulder.
In the statement Friday, Penny lawyers Steven Raiser and Thomas Kenniff claimed Neely had been “aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and other passengers” and cited Neely’s “documented history of violent and erratic behavior, the apparent result of ongoing and untreated mental illness.”
Neely, who is Black, lost consciousness during the struggle. EMTs and police arrived after the train stopped at a station. He was pronounced dead at a Manhattan hospital shortly after.
Penny, who appeared to be white, was taken into custody Monday and released without charges.
As news of Neely’s death spread online, video of the encounter elicited strong reactions from New Yorkers and officials. Some described the act as a lethal overreaction to a person in the throes of mental illness, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez declaring Neely was “murdered,” while others defended the Marine veteran’s actions.
A group of protesters gathered Wednesday afternoon in the station where Neely died to call for an arrest.
Jason Williams, an actor, recalled encountering Neely when he first moved to the city in 2007. Then a teenager, Neely was an agile Michael Jackson impersonator, Williams said, soliciting donations as he moonwalked through the subway and lip-synced to “Billie Jean.”
“He embodied the hustle spirit of New York,” Williams said. “He was a great performer and it’s a real tragedy that he was killed so senselessly.”
The Manhattan district attorney’s office said it is investigating Neely’s death.
“As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the Medical Examiner’s report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records,” read a statement from a spokesperson for the district attorney.
Attempts by Marine Corps Times to reach Penny via phone were unsuccessful.
The New York City Police Department did not respond by time of publication to a Marine Corps Times request for comment.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.