Additional reporting by Katie Honan
The family of Jordan Neely, the 30-year-old man who was killed in a crowded subway car last week after former Marine Daniel Penny put him in a fatal chokehold, spoke out Monday by issuing a public statement and urged Mayor Eric Adams to reach out to them.
“Mayor Eric Adams please give us a call. The family wants you to know that Jordan matters,” attorneys Donte Mills and Lennon Edwards wrote in a joint statement on behalf of Neely’s family, released one week after Neely’s killing.
Asked by THE CITY about the family’s remarks, Adams called the situation an “incredible tragedy” and said his “deepest sympathies are with the Neely family,” in a statement from a spokesperson. He declined to say whether he reached out to them directly.
Adams has rarely shied away from calling out violent crime on the subways or from weighing in on high-profile criminal cases — like when he came to the defense of 61-year-old bodega clerk Jose Alba who killed Austin Simon, an unarmed customer when an argument over an unpaid bag of chips escalated.
In Neely’s killing, Adams has said it’s too soon to pass judgment.
“Each situation is different … We have so many cases where passengers assist other riders,” he said on CNN last week. “We cannot just blatantly say what a passenger should or should not do in a situation like that, and we should allow the investigation to take its course.”
Adams has made driving down crime and removing homeless people from subways a major focus of his first year in office. Around 1,300 people made it into shelters and remained there in the first year of the initiative, according to the city.
Adams has faced mounting criticism from politicians to his left, as well as protesters in the streets, for failing to condemn Neely’s killing.
In their letter Monday, attorneys for Neely’s family also pushed back on a statement released by Daniel Penny’s lawyers on Friday.
Penny’s lawyers described a “documented history of violent and erratic behavior” by Neely and said that Neely began “aggressively threatening” Penny and other passengers before Penny moved to subdue him.
Speaking for Neely’s family, Mills and Edwards challenged that characterization.
“The truth is, [Penny] knew nothing about Jordan’s history when he intentionally wrapped his arms around Jordan‘s neck, and squeezed and kept squeezing,” their letter reads.
“Daniel Penny’s press release is not an apology nor an expression of regret. It is a character assassination, and a clear example of why he believed he was entitled to take Jordan‘s life,” the letter read, which calls for Penny to be imprisoned.
A week after Neely’s homicide, Penny has yet to be arrested or charged. The homicide has roiled the city, sparked polarizing debates about mental health, racism and homelessness, and set off days of protests and vigils in the streets and subways.
Douglas Cohen, a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney, said “senior, experienced prosecutors” were investigating and they urged anyone who witnessed Neely’s killing or has other information to report it to their office.
In the week since his death, a picture has emerged of Neely leading up to his killing; he was a talented Michael Jackson impersonator whose mother was murdered when he was 14. In the New York Post, relatives described Neely’s long history of mental illness and struggles to get the help he needed. He cycled in and out of jails and shelters and had dozens of encounters with outreach workers for homeless people, the New York Times reported.
In February, he pleaded guilty to assault in the third degree, and was sentenced to 15 months in a diversion program, but he failed to appear in court two weeks later and a warrant was issued for his arrest, according to the Manhattan’s DA’s office.
On Saturday hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets and the subway platforms, demanding Penny be arrested, and pushing for more support for homeless New Yorkers. Videos on social media showed dozens of demonstrators who jumped down on the tracks, stalling train traffic.
Derrick “Dwreck” Ingram, an activist and organizer who participated on Saturday, said he witnessed several violent arrests, and at least three people that he knew of had to be hospitalized, including someone who had a panic attack and another protester whose head was smashed against the ground by police.
“We were brutalized by the police,” Ingram said. “We were called names. We had our heads slammed against the concrete.”
Thirteen people were arrested, an NYPD spokesperson said. They face charges of resisting arrest, obstructing governmental administration, trespassing and assault, an NYPD spokesperson said.
On Monday police said they were looking to arrest six more people who’d been on the train tracks that night. NYC Transit President Richard Davey called the protest “dangerous, reckless,” and said it could be life-threatening if demonstrators had come in contact with the electrified third rail.
But advocates with the group TheMayDays, a new coalition formed to pressure for reforms related to Neely’s killing, said the tactics were necessary given the severity of the situation.
“Jordan needed help. He just wanted food and water,” @themaydays2023 wrote on Instagram. “We must change how New York treats individuals on the margins.”
The group planned another vigil Monday evening at Broadway-Lafayette, the NoHo subway station where Neely was killed.
“You watched Jordan Neely held in a chokehold for 15 minutes,” the group wrote. “Now we’re holding this city accountable for 15 days.”