The ex-Marine accused of manslaughter and homicide after fatally strangling an unhoused man on the New York City subway earlier this year should have known the chokehold he used was deadly, prosecutors argue in a new court filing.
Daniel Penny, 25, is facing charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide after police identified him as the man shown in cell phone footage pinning Jordan Neely, 30, to the subway floor and placing him in a fatal chokehold in May. Mr Penny pleaded not guilty to the charges recommended by a grand jury in June, and his lawyers requested the case be dismissed last month.
A filing from the Manhattan district attorney’s office argued that Mr Penny – who served in the US Marines for four years – received training and instructional materials that highlighted the deadly potential of chokeholds.
Mr Penny’s trainer told a grand jury that students are told chokeholds can be fatal, prosecutors wrote. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program Manual also states that the techniques described can result in death, according to prosecutors.
“This training helps support the notion that the defendant was aware of and consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death would occur as a result of his prolonged use of a chokehold,” prosecutors wrote in the 15 November filing.
Witnesses have said Mr Neely was experiencing a mental health crisis in the days leading up to his death, and that he was complaining of hunger and thirst when he boarded a train in Manhattan on 1 May.
Witnesses said Mr Neely told passengers that he was not afraid to die or go to jail before throwing his jacket on the ground. At that point, Mr Penny wrestled him to the ground. Mr Penny previously claimed that Mr Neely was threatening other passengers. One witness told the grand jury Mr Penny they thought they were “going to die,” according to court filings.
Prosecutors noted that witnesses “differed sharply in their threat assessments.”
“It is certainly true that several of the passengers testified that they were fearful. Several such attestations are quoted in the defendant’s motion,” according to the filing.
But “omitted” from the defence’s accounting “are the accounts that undermine the notion of rampant and universal panic,” prosecutors wrote.
Law enforcement officials said Mr Neely did not specifically threaten or attack anyone on the train.
The Independent has requested comment from Mr Penny’s attorneys.
The case has sparked widespread debate, with several prominent activists and politicians labeling this a case of racist vigilantism. Mr Penny is white and Mr Neely is Black.
Civil rights activist Rev Al Sharpton called Mr Neely’s death a crime, comparing it to the 1984 fatal shootings of four Black men by a white man, Bernhard Goetz, dubbed the “subway vigilante,” the Associated Press reported.
Meanwhile, Democratic New York State Senator Julia Salazar told Gothamist that Neely was “lynched.”
“I use the language ‘lynching’ … [because] it seems that people were cheering it on, and felt that it was justified in some way to commit violence against this man, who appears to be most vulnerable person in that situation,” Ms Salazar told Gothamist in May.