A US marine veteran who placed an agitated New York City subway passenger in a chokehold, killing him and sparking outrage as video footage of the encounter went viral, has surrendered on a manslaughter charge brought nearly two weeks later.
Daniel Penny, 24, was freed pending trial hours after turning himself in at a police station and appearing in court to answer criminal charges over the May 1 death of Jordan Neely, a former subway performer with a history of mental illness.
Penny did not enter a plea.
Mr Neely’s death prompted protests, while others embraced Penny as a vigilante hero.
Lawyers for Mr Neely’s family said Mr Neely was not harming anyone and did not deserve to die.
A post-mortem examination ruled Mr Neely’s death a homicide due to compression of the neck.
“Jordan Neely should still be alive today,” Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg said.
A judge authorised Penny’s release on 100,000 dollar (£80,000) bail and ordered him to surrender his passport and not to leave New York without approval.
Prosecutors said they are seeking a grand jury indictment.
Penny, who is due back in court on July 17, did not speak to reporters.
At a brief arraignment, Penny faced straight ahead, his hands cuffed.
If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.
Assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass said Mr Neely had been making threats and “scaring passengers” when Penny approached him from behind and placed him in a chokehold.
Penny “continued to hold Mr Neely in the chokehold for several minutes”, even after he stopped moving, Mr Steinglass said.
A freelance journalist who recorded Mr Neely struggling to free himself, then lapsing into unconsciousness, said he had been shouting at passengers and begging for money aboard the train but had not got physical with anyone.
Penny pinned Mr Neely to the floor of the subway car with the help of two other passengers and held him in a chokehold.
Mr Neely’s death has raised an uproar over many issues, including how the city treats people with mental illness, as well as crime, race and vigilantism.
Police questioned Penny, who is white, in the aftermath but released him without charges.
Thomas Kenniff, a lawyer for Penny, said he did not mean to harm Mr Neely and is dealing with the situation with the “integrity and honour that is characteristic of who he is and characteristic of his honourable service in the United States Marine Corps”.
Donte Mills, a lawyer for Mr Neely’s family, disputed Penny’s version of events, saying the veteran “acted with indifference. He didn’t care about Jordan, he cared about himself. And we can’t let that stand”.
“Mr Neely did not attack anyone,” Mr Mills said at a news conference on Friday.
“He did not touch anyone. He did not hit anyone. But he was choked to death.”
Mr Neely’s father Andre Zachery wept as another family lawyer, Lennon Edwards, recounted the last moments before Penny tackled Mr Neely to the ground and put him in a chokehold.
“What did he think would happen?” Mr Mills asked.
Mr Neely, remembered by some commuters for his Michael Jackson impersonations, had been dealing with homelessness and mental illness in recent years, friends said.
Mr Mills said Mr Neely’s outlook changed after his mother was killed by her boyfriend in 2007.
Through his struggles, Mr Mills said, Mr Neely found joy in singing, dancing and bringing a smile to other people’s faces.
“No-one on that train asked Jordan: ‘What’s wrong, how can I help you?’” Mr Mills said, urging New Yorkers in a similar situation: “Don’t attack. Don’t choke. Don’t kill. Don’t take someone’s life. Don’t take someone’s loved one from them because they’re in a bad place.”
Roger Abrams, a community health representative, said he saw Mr Neely on the subway a week before his death.
Mr Neely was dishevelled and told people he was hungry and in need of spare change.
Mr Abrams said he approached Mr Neely and asked him why he no longer performs.
“I haven’t been feeling well,” Mr Abrams remembered Mr Neely saying.
The delay helped fuel protests in the city.
Some people climbed down to subway tracks, disrupting services and leading to arrests.
Mayor Eric Adams said on Wednesday that Mr Neely’s death should not have happened.
A second-degree manslaughter charge in New York will require the jury to find that a person has engaged in reckless conduct that creates an unjustifiable risk of death, and then consciously disregards that risk.
The law also requires that conduct to be a gross deviation from how a reasonable person would act in a similar situation.