Original Article – Ex-Marine Daniel Penny insisted to The Post Saturday that the chokehold killing of Jordan Neely had nothing to do with race — and everything to do with a broken system “that so desperately failed us.”
In his first public comments since the caught-on-video May 1 tragedy on an F train, Penny was both soft-spoken and stoic about being at the center of a political and racial firestorm, as he faces criminal charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
“This had nothing to do with race,” said Penny, 24, sitting under a gazebo at Argyle Park in Babylon, not far from the Long Island beaches where he grew up surfing.
Dressed in black slacks, a blue zip-up jacket and beat-up Vans sneakers, Penny didn’t flinch when asked about Neely, a black, 30-year-old mentally ill homeless man.
“I judge a person based on their character. I’m not a white supremacist.
“I mean, it’s, it’s a little bit comical. Everybody who’s ever met me can tell you, I love all people, I love all cultures. You can tell by my past and all my travels and adventures around the world. I was actually planning a road trip through Africa before this happened.”
He is not a vigilante, Penny said. “I’m a normal guy.”
The confrontation on the train began after Neely allegedly began yelling at other straphangers and throwing trash. Penny said he could not go into detail about the events that then transpired because of his pending case, but he indicated it wasn’t like “anything I’d experienced before.”
“This was different, this time was much different,” Penny said.
He paused and said again, “This time was very different.”
Penny’s attorney Thomas Kenniff of the Manhattan law firm Raiser & Kenniff said that fellow F train passengers will back up his client’s account.
“I can tell you that the threats, the menacing, the terror that Jordan Neely introduced to that train has already been well documented. I don’t think it’s going to even be controverted. There are numerous witnesses from all different walks of life who have absolutely no motive to do anything other than to recount what actually happened. They are uniform in their recollection of events.”
Penny said he was coming back to Manhattan from school and was en route to his gym on West 23rd Street when the chaotic encounter erupted. He did not want to name the school where he is studying architecture. He is now taking classes remotely.
“I was going to my gym,” Penny said. “There’s a pool there. I like to swim. I was living in the East Village. I take the subway multiple times a day. I think the New York transit system is the best in the world and I’ve been all over the world.”
Penny seized Neely around the neck and dropped to the floor as a second and third man tried to restrain him further, according to witnesses and video of the fatal encounter.
The city medical examiner has ruled Neely’s death a homicide, noting he died due to “compression of neck (chokehold).
Who was Neely?
Jordan Neely, 30, a homeless man, was strangled aboard a northbound F train just before 2:30 p.m. May 1, according to police.
He reportedly started acting erratically on the train and harassing other passengers before being restrained and ultimately choked by a straphanger, identified as Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old former Marine from Queens.
Penny, who was seen on video applying the chokehold, was taken into custody and later released. He was eventually charged with second-degree manslaughter.
Why is there fallout over Neely’s death?
The city medical examiner ruled Neely’s death a homicide, noting he died due to “compression of neck (chokehold).”
Neely’s aunt told The Post that he became a “complete mess” following the brutal murder of his mother in 2007. She noted he was schizophrenic and suffered from PTSD and depression.
“The whole system just failed him. He fell through the cracks of the system,” Carolyn Neely said.
Who is Penny?
24-year-old former Marine Daniel Penny served as an infantry squad leader and an instructor in water survival while in the Marines Corps from 2017 to 2021, according to his online resume. Penny graduated from high school in West Islip, NY.
He surrendered to authorities 11 days after he placed Neely in a fatal chokehold on an F train.
Penny was charged with second-degree manslaughter and is free on $100,000 bail. It is not clear if authorities will look to charge the other two men. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has six months to secure a grand jury indictment against Penny, according to Penny’s attorney, Steven M. Raiser.
Neely’s family has said Penny should be tried for murder.
But Penny’s attorneys have said he didn’t intend to kill Neely when he choked him — he was merely trying to defend himself and fellow straphangers from a threatening homeless man, who had a long history of mental illness and numerous prior arrests.
When asked what he would say to the family of Jordan Neely, whose funeral was Friday, Penny looked somber, carefully choosing his words.
“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life,” he said ” It’s tragic what happened to him. Hopefully, we can change the system that’s so desperately failed us.”
But when asked if he would take action again if he were in a similar situation, Penny nodded.
“You know, I live an authentic and genuine life,” Penny said. “And I would — if there was a threat and danger in the present …”
Does he feel he did anything to be ashamed of?
“I don’t, I mean, I always do what I think is right.”
The Post read Penny the statement made by the Rev. Al Sharpton at Neely’s funeral in Harlem Friday: “We can’t live in a city where you can choke me to death with no provocation, no weapon, no threat and you go home and sleep in your bed while my family has to put me into a cemetery.”
Penny nodded but said he was “not sure” who Sharpton is. “I don’t really know celebrities that well.”
He added that he does not watch the news. While he is aware of some of the negativity toward him — and said he was somewhat surprised by the media onslaught — he remained philosophical.
“If you’re faced with all these challenges, you have to remain calm. What’s the point of worrying about something, worrying is not going to make your problems disappear. I attribute this to my father and grandfather. They are very very stoic.”
Penny said he gave up social media years ago.
“I don’t follow anyone, and I don’t have social media because I really don’t like the attention and I just think there are better ways to spend your time. I don’t like the limelight.”
Penny, who has three sisters, said he has been surrounded by family and friends since the incident — and says his family is “hanging in there.”
“My mom is OK,” he said. “My sisters understand. They all support me.”
Penny described a relatively happy childhood growing up in the West Islip area. He was one of four children. His parents split up when he was young.
He said his two role models are his grandfathers, one of whom immigrated from Italy. The other grandfather is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Italy.
He said he moved around a lot in the West Islip area because of his parents’ split but spent much of his formative years in a house right near the sea that his great-grandfather bought in the 1960s.
“My grandmother was raised there,” Penny said. “And then my father and his brothers were raised there. And then me and my sisters were able to grow up there. I’m very thankful. It is a beautiful house right [near] the water. We wouldn’t have been able to live that lifestyle on the water if it wasn’t for my family.”
Penny said his parents’ divorce was difficult but it had an upside.
“It brought me and my sisters closer. You know, we’re really close. I love my sisters. I have three of them. I’d do anything for them.”
Penny attended Suffolk Community College after graduating from West Islip High School where he was a lacrosse star – before enlisting in the Marines.
“Growing up in the wake of 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in a community full of firemen, first responders, police officers, it was like, I needed to serve my community in some way.”
Penny was deployed twice with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“We went to Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Greece and Spain,” he said. “We stayed off the coast of Iran for a bit. It was during that whole drone thing when they were shooting stuff down and stuff.”
Penny also went to Okinawa, Japan.
“I love to travel,” he said. “It really changed my perspective of the world for sure. I’m very thankful for being able to travel so much. Just the friendliness and welcoming of everyone and everywhere that I went to. And even before I deployed, you know, a lot of my friends I served with in my platoon came from all over a lot from Central America and Mexico, that, you know, I’ve opened up my, my eyes to their cultures and their perspectives.”
“I loved leading Marines and I love being around Marines,” he said of his service, where he eventually achieved the rank of sergeant. “I love helping people.”
Penny said he “didn’t try to become a leader” in the Marine Corps.
Penny said he didn’t “try to become a leader” in the Marines. “I just did what I had to do. And I think growing up in a majority female household, you learn to lead in different ways from an early age. You learn to have compassion and humility — and disregard your perspective and show compassion to other people’s perspectives as well.”
Leaving the Marines was a “tough transition.”
“I really missed the interaction,” he said. “I missed the adventure, you know. So last summer, I decided to drive from New York and do a road trip through Mexico and Central America all the way to Nicaragua.”
Penny said he drove cross country and then down to Mexico, mostly by himself but with a friend part of the time. He got caught in a bad hurricane in an enchanted forest in Oaxaca, he said, and was trapped on a mountain for 48 hours.
“My car got stuck in a landslide,” Penny said. ”We had to hike and find a local village to come help dig us out. They were so friendly and kind. They really treated me like family.
“You hear so many bad things about these places,” Penny said. “I just wanted to see for myself, and thankfully I was proven right that these people were always welcoming and friendly and treated me like family everywhere.”
Penny said he was sitting in a coffee shop in Guatemala last year when he said he “suddenly felt overwhelmingly at home.”
“I was in Antigua, Guatemala, in a coffee shop. And I was just kind of overwhelmed by a sense of home even though I couldn’t be further from home, you know. So I just I attribute that that obviously, the locals there. They were very welcome — and also the structure I was sitting in. It was there I decided I wanted to study architecture and maybe help inspire other feelings of home for other people.”
Penny said he owes his calm demeanor to his many days on the water — and said he planned to surf Saturday afternoon after the interview to blow off steam.
“I’ve been surfing my entire life,” he said. “Growing up on the water, growing up at the beach, it’s what my father and grandfather did, too.”