May. 12, 2023 By Ethan Stark-Miller
The attorneys for Jordan Neely’s family said that the manslaughter charge filed by the Manhattan District Attorney against Daniel Penny was too lenient and the former marine should have been hit with murder.
The attorneys, in a press conference held Friday morning shortly after Penny’s arrest, said that the charge of manslaughter-two for the alleged chokehold killing of Neely was too light, since it only comes with a maximum sentence of 5-to-15 years in prison. They argue that the District Attorney should have charged Penny with murder-two since it carries a sentence of 25-years to life.
“Ask yourself, is that enough? Is that enough for someone who choked somebody out on the train and took their life? 5 to 15 years?” said Lenon Mills, one of the Neely family attorneys, during a news conference outside the Manhattan offices of the law firm Mills & Edwards, LLP Friday morning.
“Murder two [is] up to 25-to-life,” he added. “So, we need a full cup of justice here and we’re asking for us to continue to press forward until that happens.”
Mills and his partner, Donte Edwards, were joined by two members of Neely’s family: his father, Adre Zachery, and aunt, Mildred Mahazu. Neither Zachery nor Mahadu spoke during the press conference except to provide their names.
While they’ll continue fighting for “full justice,” Mills said Penny being arrested and charged is a “step in the right direction.”
“We’re pausing to recognize that we’ve taken the first step, a step in the right direction,” Mills said. “We’re closer now to justice than we were a week ago. Because Daniel Penny has been arrested.”
Penny was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court early Friday afternoon in front of Judge Kevin McGrath, where he did not enter a plea and was released on $100,000 bond. The judge ordered Penny to surrender his passport within 48 hours, and stipulated he must seek permission from the court to leave the state.
“After an evaluation of the available facts and evidence, the Manhattan DA’s Office determined there was probable cause to arrest Daniel Penny and arraign him on felony charges,” Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said in a statement.
“The investigation thus far has included numerous witness interviews, careful review of photo and video footage, and discussions with the medical examiner’s office,” he added. “As this case proceeds, we will be constrained from speaking outside the courtroom to ensure this remains a fair and impartial matter. Jordan Neely should still be alive today, and my thoughts continue to be with his family and loved ones as they mourn his loss during this extremely painful time.”
The charges came nearly two weeks after a close to four-minute video first surfaced of Penny holding Neely, who was a 30-year-old Black homeless man suffering from mental health issues, on the ground for several minutes in an ultimately deadly chokehold while aboard a Manhattan F train. Penny was assisted by two other passengers, according to video of the incident, who haven’t been charged.
After the incident, Penny — a 24-year-old student who served in the Marines — voluntarily went with officers back to Manhattan’s 5th Precinct to answer questions, according to the criminal complaint, and was released shortly after without being charged.
Penny surrendered to the police early Friday morning at the 5th Precinct, where he stayed for about two hours before being taken to court in handcuffs.
“He is dealing with the situation with the sort of integrity and honor that is characteristic of who he is, a characteristic of his honorable service in the United States Marine Corps,” said Thomas Kenniff, one of Penny’s attorney’s outside the station house.
Penny’s lawyers responded to news of the coming charges in a Thursday night statement by saying that he’s a decorated veteran who was defending himself and his fellow passengers, as Neely was allegedly shouting at riders and making threats; and the “the unfortunate result was the unintended and unforeseen death of Mr. Neely.”
Edwards, however, questioned Penny’s claim that he didn’t think placing Neely in a chokehold would lead to Neely’s death, given his training as a Marine.
“Daniel Penny chose, intentionally chose, a technique to use that is designed to cut off air,” Edwards said. “That’s what he chose. And he chose to continue to hold that chokehold minute after minute, second after second, until there was no life left in Jordan Neely.”
“What did he think would happen?” he added. “What did he think would happen when he choked him and held on for almost 15 minutes?”
Mayor Eric Adams released a Friday statement applauding Bragg for taking time to investigate Neely’s death and said “justice can now move forward against” Penny, after nearly two weeks of refraining from condemning Penny’s alleged actions or even mentioning his name.
“I appreciate DA Bragg conducting a thorough investigation into the death of Jordan Neely. I have the utmost faith in the judicial process, and now justice can move forward against Daniel Penny.”
When asked by amNewYork Metro if Adams would release a more lengthy statement about the charges on Friday, his spokesperson Fabien Levy referred the reporter back to a 15-minute address Adams gave on Neely’s death Wednesday where he didn’t call for charging Penny.
The mayor spent most of that address calling for structural changes to the city’s mental health care apparatus that could prevent future cases like Neely’s, such as his administration’s directive that first responders have the authority to hospitalize severely mentally ill people it deems unable to care for their “basic needs.” He also expressed sympathy for Neely’s family, while saying Neely “did not deserve to die” and his “life mattered.”
Edwards said that Adams “started out on the wrong side,” when the mayor last week said there wasn’t enough known about Neely’s death to weigh in but he did know of times where there was “a passenger assisting someone.” But, he said, the mayor turned things around this week by addressing the need for better mental health care to help people like Neely in his address.
“The mayor took a good step this week,” Edwards said. “He started out on the wrong side. He started out by saying ‘we don’t say, ‘we don’t have enough information, but I do know of situations where people assisted someone on the subway. He knew that that’s not the case here. So we applaud him for having an about-face and really making this about what the issue needs to be, which is mental health.”
The manner of Neely’s death and the fact that Penny was first released without charges sparked nearly two weeks of protests and vigils calling for Penny’s arrest, which in some cases led to brutal clashes between the NYPD and protesters. It’s also led to citywide conversations about race, vigilantism and how the city’s failure to serve its homeless and mentally ill populations.
Additional reporting from Christian Murray and Dean Moses.