A homeless man has died on the New York subway after an ex-Marine held him in a stranglehold for minutes. The victim, 30-year-old Jordan Neely, had yelled at passengers as the former elite soldier wrapped his arms around Neely's neck and head and held him for several minutes until his body went limp, US media reports. The homeless man died as a result of a crushed throat, according to the city's coroner. He treated the case as a homicide.
The incident happened last Monday afternoon in the New York borough of Manhattan. The 24-year-old ex-soldier was reportedly interrogated by the police and released the same day. Although the coroner determined it was the stranglehold that killed Neely, the Marine was still not in police custody Wednesday night, according to US broadcaster CBS News, but prosecutors are investigating. "As part of our rigorous ongoing investigation, we will review the coroner's report, review all available video and photo footage, identify and interview as many witnesses as possible, and obtain additional medical documentation," prosecutors said.
Neely boarded the northbound Line F train just after 2 p.m. and began swearing at passengers, eyewitness Juan Alberto Vazquez, a freelance journalist, told the New York Times. "I have nothing to eat, I have nothing to drink, I'm fed up. I don't mind going to jail and serving life. I'm ready to die," the homeless man cried. But he did not attack anyone on the train. The "New York Daily News" reports, citing the police, that Neely also threw garbage at passengers, which sparked an argument with the 24-year-old.
According to police, Neely had a long history of mental health problems and had been arrested 40 times. His father, Andre Zachery, told the newspaper that Neely's mother, Christie Neely, was killed when her son was 18. Christie Neely was found dead in a suitcase on the Bronx roadside in 2007 at the age of 36, Zachery reported. Jordan testified in the murder trial of her lover Shawn Southerland, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison in 2012. "His mother died, she was killed too. And now him? Her boyfriend shot her. And now him? By someone else?" He himself has not seen Neely for four years.
Vazquez captured Neely's final minutes on video. The almost four-minute film only begins when the homeless man is already lying on the ground in a stranglehold. Two other men surround him, one holding his wrists while Neely tries to defend himself with his arms and legs. Finally, a male voice from the background warns that the chokehold could be deadly. "If you smother him, that's it," says the man. "You don't want to be charged with murder." One of those involved replies, "He's not squeezing anymore," and the veteran releases the chokehold. Neely is unconscious and the men roll him onto his side. He is taken to a hospital where he dies. Overall, according to Vazquez, Neely was held in a chokehold for about 15 minutes. The journalist explained that it didn't look like Neely was choking. But after learning of the 30-year-old's death, he was disturbed by what he saw on the train.
Outrage over Neely's death grew after Vazquez's video became public on Wednesday. About 50 demonstrators gathered on the platform of the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, where the lifeless body of the 30-year-old had been taken from the train by rescue workers. "Jordan Neely was murdered here," someone sprayed on the ground, according to New York Magazine. The crowd was furious because Neeyl's death was not prevented despite the increased police presence on the subways. The protesters also denounced the fact that a white man had killed a black man and had not yet been charged. "If you see someone being choked to death on the subway, hit them!" shouted one demonstrator.
Mayor Eric Adams took Neely's death as proof that his policy of removing the mentally ill and homeless from the subway was justified. "Every loss of life is tragic. We don't know a lot of what happened here, so I will reserve the right to comment further. However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues at play, which is why our government has made record investments to address those supplies they need and to get people off the streets and off the subways and out of dangerous situations."
Manhattan District Chief Mark Levine, on the other hand, blamed the lack of care for the mentally ill for Neely's fate: "Our broken health care system let him down," said the Democrat. "He deserved help, not death in a stranglehold on the subway floor."
Similarly, homeless advocates argued: "It's terrible that it had to come to this scale, this tragic loss of life, to underscore that this approach of treating people as dangerous or a threat just because they're in need has to stop "CBS News quotes Corinne Low, director of the Open Hearts Initiative, which works to help the homeless. "There was no compassion on that train car," Karim Walker of the Urban Justice Center told the New York Times. Neely's death should be accounted for. "It was neither necessary nor deserved to die like that. That's what really scares me and what breaks my heart."
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was also appalled by Neely's death: "Jordan Neely was murdered," wrote the New York Democrat on Twitter. "But because Jordan was homeless and screaming for food at a time when the city is raising rents and cutting services to militarize itself while many in power demonize the poor, the killer is left with passive headlines and no charges protected. It's disgusting."
Mayor Adams contradicted Ocasio-Cortez's statement that Neely was "murdered" and warned of caution: "I don't think that's very responsible at this point in time, when we're still investigating the situation," he told the US broadcaster CNN. "Let's let the prosecution do their investigation with law enforcement."
Legal expert and criminal defense attorney David Schwartz told CBS News that the case could be legally complicated. "You can only use as much force as is necessary in the given situation. So was force necessary at all? I don't know. We'll have to wait and see how the investigation develops."
Sources: New York Magazine, NBC News, CBS News, New York Times, The City, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter