Police issue call for help, outrage continues to grow over deadly subway chokehold encounter

ByEyewitness News WABC logo
Friday, May 5, 2023
Rally held in response to deadly subway chokehold
Protestors at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn called for accountability on Thursday following the death of a subway rider who was put into a chokehold by a former Marine on the train.

NOHO, Manhattan (WABC) -- The death of a subway rider who was put into a chokehold by a former Marine on the train has been ruled a homicide and now activists are calling for charges to be filed.

Protestors at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn called for accountability on Thursday as the NYPD has issued a call for public help in their investigation.

Jordan Neely, 30, died from compression of the neck, the city's medical examiner determined Wednesday.

Neely is recognizable to some New Yorkers as a Michael Jackson impersonator who regularly danced in the Times Square transit hub. On Monday afternoon, he was yelling and pacing back and forth on an F train in Manhattan, witnesses and police said, when he was restrained by at least three people, including a U.S. Marine veteran who pulled one arm tightly around his neck.

A physical struggle ensued, leading to Neely losing consciousness. He was rushed to Lenox Hill Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

On Wednesday, a medical examiner determined Neely's was a homicide. However, that does not mean his case will be prosecuted as a homicide, that is up to the Manhattan DA's office, which is investigating.

"As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the Medical Examiner's report, assess all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical records," read a statement from a spokesperson for the DA.

The NYPD is asking for help from the public as investigators review video footage and other material and said the department's "first priority is always to seek justice."

Both the family of Jordan Neely and the 24-year-old Marine retained legal counsel. The veteran retained attorney Thomas Kenniff, who ran for Manhattan district attorney against Alvin Bragg as a Republican in 2021.

Meanwhile, the Neely's family attorney released a statement that said in part, "I took this case because 15 minutes is too long to go without help, intervention and without air. Passengers are not supposed to die on the floor of our subways."

As news of Neely's death spread online, video of the encounter evoked strong reactions from New Yorkers and officials. Some described the act as a lethal overreaction to a person in the throes of mental illness and others defended the Marine veteran's actions.

On Wednesday night, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, "Jordan Neely was murdered."

Mayor Eric Adams later spoke about the investigation and urged New Yorkers to withhold judgment.

"I'm going to let the process take its place and those who believe that I should do something differently, I respect that," Adams said. "But I have to make the right decision for the City of New York."

Neely has a history of prior arrests and was known by the MTA and police, but many argue Neely did not need to die and there is growing backlash over the case.

The 24-year-old man who tackled Neely claimed he was stepping in to help fellow passengers who felt scared and threatened. But at a vigil for Neely on Wednesday afternoon, advocates said it was Neely who needed help most, and society failed him.

Tensions were high as the crowd gathered on the platform to denounce what they saw as an injustice in the Broadway-Lafayette station.

"And because what people are constantly given is this narrative that homeless people are dangerous, people think they can take matters into their own hands and view a Black man being upset that he's hungry as a threat," said Krys Cerisier with Vocal NY.

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The 24-year-old subway rider was questioned by detectives and released. He has not been publicly identified but joined the Corps in 2017 and was discharged in 2021 with the rank of sergeant. He received medals for good conduct and national defense service and service in the global war on terrorism.

Witnesses told detectives Neely came onto the subway, threw his jacket on the floor, and began screaming and yelling aggressively, pacing up and down the train car.

According to sources, witnesses to his final moments told police Neely was erratic and hostile -- but it's not clear if he was threatening violence.

"He erupted in the train and then started to yelling violence language, 'I don't care if I die, I don't care if I go to jail, I don't have any food, I don't have any beverage, I'm done,'" said Juan Alberto Vázquez who recorded video of the encounter.

Eyewitness News Reporter Mike Marza has more

30-year-old Jordan Neely died from a chokehold after another passenger subdued him on a subway train in Manhattan. Mike Marza has the story.

Other witnesses told police that Neely became increasingly hostile and began throwing trash. Vazquez says it did not seem to him that Neely intended to harm riders-that he did not attack anyone before he was jumped from behind and placed in a chokehold.

Years ago, Neely could be seen in the subways dancing like Michael Jackson. The Manhattan borough president tweeted Wednesday that he saw him performing many times on the A-train and that he made people smile.

Tribute videos posted online show a loyal fanbase who enjoyed crossing paths with Neely on their daily commutes. Some grew concerned when he went missing early last year, according to YouTube comments.

Video showed Neely asking for donations on April 1.

Video shows Jordan Neely asking for donations on April 1.

In recent years, he'd been arrested more than 40 times on the subway for crimes like public lewdness and assaulting a senior citizen.

"He should not have been on that train in the first place, he should have been housed," Cerisier said.

Along with his criminal background of 44 prior arrests, he also had a documented mental history, police sources said.

"Our government, our society, should actually provide those wraparound services instead of leaving someone languishing out there and that's a failure on all of us, and our elected leaders," said Adolfo Abreu with Vocal NY.

Neely's death comes amid a period of heightened public attention to both homelessness and mental illness on New York City's streets and subways.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke out about the case on Thursday, and said Neely's family deserves justice.

"Just looking at that video, you know its wrong, no one has the right to take the life of another person," Hochul said. "Three individuals holding him down until the last breath was snuffed out him, I would say, was a very extreme response."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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