Marine vet charged with choking man on subway says, ‘I was scared’

Posted at 4:43 PM, June 12, 2023 and last updated 6:18 PM, June 12, 2023


NEW YORK (Court TV) – The U.S. Marine veteran charged with manslaughter after restraining a man on a New York City subway is speaking out about what happened, saying that he was scared and trying to protect other passengers on the train.

Daniel Penny, 24, is charged in the death of Jordan Neely, who died on May 1 after Penny allegedly held in him a chokehold.

Daniel Penny, center, is walked by New York Police Department detectives

Daniel Penny, center, is walked by New York Police Department detectives out of the 5th Precinct on Friday, May. 12, 2023 in New York. Manhattan prosecutors announced Thursday they would bring the criminal charge against Penny, 24, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, in the May 1 death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely. (AP Photo/Jeenah Moon)

In a series of short videos released by his attorneys to Court TV, Penny offered his side of the story and denied ever intending to harm Neely.

Penny said on May 1, he boarded the subway after leaving school, as he does multiple times daily. “At Second Avenue, a man came on – stumbled on. He appeared to be drunk,” Penny said. “The doors closed and he ripped his jacket off and threw it at the people sitting down to my left.”

Penny said he had been listening to music and removed his headphones so he could hear what Neely was yelling.

“The three main threats that he repeated over and over was:

  • ‘I’m going to kill you.’
  • ‘I’m prepared to go to jail for life.’
  • ‘I’m willing to die.'”

Penny described the scene as a “scary situation” and said he feared not only for himself, but also his fellow passengers.

“There’s a common misconception that Marines don’t get scared. We’re actually taught – one of our core values is courage – and courage is not the absence of fear, but how you handle fear.”

Neely, 30, was well-known as a Michael Jackson impersonator, and witnesses said he had been yelling and pacing back and forth before he was restrained by three people, including Penny.

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A video of the altercation was posted online by a freelance journalist, which appeared to show Penny holding Neely in a headlock for several minutes as Neely struggled to get free. Penny said his only intention was to restrain Neely and never to injure him.

“I was trying to restrain him. You can see in the video there is a clear rise and fall of his chest, indicating he’s breathing. I’m trying to restrain him from him being able to carry out these threats.”

People walk past graffiti calling attention to death of Jordan Neely

FILE – People walk past graffiti calling attention to death of Jordan Neely that was painted on the sidewalk at an entrance to Washington Square Park, Friday, May 5, 2023, in New York.  (AP Photo/Brooke Lansdale, File)

Some have accused Penny of racism because Neely is Black. “I didn’t see a Black man threatening passengers. I saw a man threatening passengers, a lot of whom were people of color,” Penny said. “A few days after the incident, I read in the papers that a woman of color came out and called me a hero. I don’t believe that I’m a hero, but she was one of those people that I was trying to protect.”

Neely lost consciousness during the struggle and was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead shortly after. Penny was initially taken into custody and released without charges. Manslaughter charges were filed approximately two weeks later.

Donte Mills, an attorney representing Neely’s family, said at a news conference last month that Neely wasn’t hurting anyone: “There was no attack. Mr. Neely did not attack anyone. He did not touch anyone. He did not hit anyone. But he was choked to death.”