Daniel Penny, whose chokehold killed Jordan Neely as he threatened and menaced subway passengers on an F train, issued a statement through his lawyers Friday suggesting he acted in self defense.
“When Mr. Neely began aggressively threatening Daniel Penny and the other passengers, Daniel, with the help of others, acted to protect themselves, until help arrived,” said the statement from his lawyers.
“Daniel never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death.”
The medical examiner’s office has ruled Neely’s death a homicide, but no charges have been filed.
The statement called Neely’s death on Monday a “tragic incident.”
A key issue in the ongoing debate that has divided New Yorkers and touched off political shock waves is Neely’s behavior on the train and his criminal record. Neely was arrested 42 times in the last 10 years, most recently in November 2021 for slugging a 67-year-old female stranger in the face as she exited a subway station. He has a history of mental illness.
The statement from Penny’s lawyers addressed the mental illness issue.
“For too long, those suffering from mental illness have been treated with indifference,” the statement said. “We hope that out of this awful tragedy will come a new commitment by our elected officials to address the mental health crisis on our streets and subways.”
Penny, 24, was taken into custody for questioning after the deadly scuffle, but was released. An investigation is continuing, led by Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass, a 25-year Manhattan district attorney’s office veteran.
The statement was the first comment about Neely’s death on behalf of Penny.
The Marine veteran is represented by the law firm Raiser & Keniff, which is based in Mineola, Long Island. One of its partners, Thomas Kenniff, emerged as a harsh critic of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg during his 2021 campaign against the prosecutor.
Penny, a former Marine squad leader and surfing enthusiast, describes himself in an online profile as “adventurous, charismatic” and “authentic.”
“Growing up here in New York, I have always been inspired by the ambition and grit,” Penny wrote in the profile.
“After high school and unsure of my future, I enlisted in the Marine Corps in search of adventure. While serving as squad leader on two deployments, I began to realize what I was passionate about. I loved helping, communicating, and connecting to different people from all over the world.”
On the day of the subway clash, Penny was wearing a sweatshirt from a Long Island surf shop and a hat with the logo of an Australian surf brand.
“After the military I enrolled in college but felt completely unfulfilled,” Penny wrote. ”I decided to drop out of school and backpack throughout Central America. This decision was inspired by the novel Don Quixote; Don Quixote so inspired by adventure, he leaves his ‘normal” life to pursue his dreams despite being called a madman. During the travels I rediscovered my love for interacting and connecting with people.”
He goes on to share his dreams about interacting with New York’s most “eccentric” characters.
“I believe that bartending in Manhattan, the place I’ve always referred to as the center of the world, would be an extremely fulfilling position,” Penny wrote. “Being able to serve and connect with the most interesting and eccentric the world has to offer, is what I believe I am meant to do.”
According to Penny’s LinkedIn profile, the Long Island native joined the Marines in 2017 after graduating from West Islip High School, where photos and videos of him show playing on his high school lacrosse team.
He served in the corps for four years starting in 2017, rising to the rank of sergeant. During his tour of duty, he received accolades including medals for good conduct, humanitarian and national defense service and service in the global war on terrorism. He served as a rifleman in the Mediterranean and his last assignment was at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Marine Corps officials said.
“I’m kind of surprised,” said a former West Islip classmate who did not feel comfortable using his name. “If I had to make a list of people from high school who would have killed someone he would not be on the list.”
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