Subway rider chokes homeless man to death, medical examiner rules

The death of a man who was choked while riding the New York City subway on Monday has been ruled a homicide, the city’s medical examiner confirmed Wednesday evening.

The deceased, Jordan Neely, was a homeless man who yelled at passengers. He died of compression of the neck as a result of asphyxiation, said Julie Polzer, spokeswoman for the medical examiner.

A homicide on the F train in Manhattan has prompted an investigation by police and prosecutors, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney said. As of Wednesday afternoon, no arrests had been made in the case.

On Monday, a passenger in the same subway car, 30-year-old Mr. He went to Neely. Michael Jackson impersonator He was screaming that he was hungry and ready to die. Savari, an unidentified 24-year-old man, Mr. Wrapping his arms around Neely’s neck and head, he held him for several minutes until he relaxed.

The episode, which was filmed in about four minutes of video, features the other riders Mr. The show helped pull Neely down while others looked on, leading to a police investigation and spurring advocates for the homeless. City officials And to call for the arrest of others. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the incident should be reviewed more closely, but the man’s death was troubling.

“It was deeply disturbing,” he told reporters.

The incident comes as the city struggles with how to reduce both crime and the number of people with mental illness living on the streets, while respecting the rights of its most vulnerable residents. Both issues are a dual focus of Mayor Eric Adams, who has sent more police to patrol train stations and clear homeless encampments, even as he supports policies that offer a softer approach to the homeless and mentally ill.

According to legal experts, any criminal case can come down to whether the person who put the rider in the chokehold was justified in using force.

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Under New York law, a person may use physical force against another person if they reasonably believe it is necessary to defend themselves or others. But a person can use deadly physical force only if they have reason to believe that an attacker is doing it or is about to do it.

Mr. When Neely was apprehended, police and prosecutors must determine what the rider’s intent was, if the rider felt physically threatened and believed other passengers had reason to fear for their safety, former prosecutor Karen Friedman Agnifilo said. Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

“The DA’s office is going to have a tough investigation where they’re going to interview every witness and go through the video by law,” he said.

A 24-year-old man was questioned Monday night and police said they were investigating the death. A spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney said the investigation is ongoing. Citing the ongoing investigation, Mr. Adams refused. An officer who testified in the investigation said Mr. confirmed Neely’s identity, although police have yet to do so.

“There was no sympathy on that train car,” said Kareem Walker, an organization and outreach specialist at the Urban Justice Center who works with homeless people. Mr. Neely’s death must be held accountable, he said.

“He didn’t need to die the way he did or he didn’t deserve it,” Mr. Walker said. “That’s what scares me the most, that breaks my heart.”

According to the police, Mr. Witnesses said Neely was behaving in a “hostile and erratic manner.”

Juan Alberto Vázquez, a freelance journalist who rode the train and shot the video, saw the victim screaming about hunger and thirst. “I don’t mind going to jail and living in jail,” said Mr. Vasquez recalled him saying. “‘I am ready to die.

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That kind of language made other travelers think Mr. Criminal defense attorney Todd Spotek said Neely may have been led to believe he was going to be violent.

“I imagine the collective feeling of that train was that something was going on,” he said.

The case raises questions about how people respond to the actions of “the poor, the homeless and especially those perceived to be mentally ill,” said Christopher Fee, an English professor at Gettysburg College who teaches about homelessness.

“Those bystanders may have felt threatened by the victim, but they weren’t actually assaulted by him,” he said. “Yet, they saw him die.”

Left-wing politicians called the death of Mr. Neely, who was black. A “lynching” by the other rider who appeared white.

Mr. Vasquez said Mr. Neely did not appear to be suffocating, but was disturbed by what he saw on the train after learning he was dead.

The audience’s reaction reflects what happens to many people when they witness a crisis, said Lee Ann DeShang-Cook, assistant professor of social work at Juniata College.

They are “experiencing various stages of fight, flight or freeze,” he said, adding, “If someone offers a homeless man a bottle of water or a snack, he can calm down and re-engage his rational brain. He’ll still be alive today.”

Workers from the Bowery Residents group, which reaches out to the homeless in the subways, said Mr. They had known Neely since 2017, according to a person familiar with his history with social services.

A group found him in the subway on March 22. His records suggest he struggles with both mental illness and a substance use disorder. At one point, he lived in a safe haven, which has more privacy and less restrictions than other shelters.

Until recent years, Mr. Neely felt happy and free as a dancer, said his friend Moses Harper, an artist who met Mr Neely in 2009 when he was 16.

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Mr. During his “Thriller” stage, Neely would dress up as Michael Jackson, ride trains, and walk on the moon in front of passengers.

Mr. Neely and Mrs. Harper and Michael Jackson impersonators bond as street performers. Ms Harper said she lost touch with Mr Neely until one cold day in 2016 when he was seen walking through subway cars with his head down.

The two left the station and walked together for several blocks, talking. She gave him her shirt and some food and told him where she lived.

Mrs. Harper said she urged him to come find her when she was ready to get help.

“He said, ‘I’m going to get it together,'” she said. “That was the last I saw of him.”

Eamonn Thompson, 30, of Jamaica, Queens, said he first saw Mr. Neely about 1 a.m. two weeks ago after boarding the F train in lower Manhattan.

“He was very upset at the time, and most of us saw him,” Ms Thompson recalled. “He said he needed help and repeated the words ‘food, shelter, I need a job’.”

Ms. Thompson saw him again a week later, around 8 p.m., when she and her 8-year-old son were on the F train bound for Manhattan. She gave him some money and he thanked her for “five minutes”.

Mr. Neely seemed tired, Mrs. Thompson said, and told her he was ashamed he hadn’t showered.

“I can tell he’s at his wits end, you know?” she said. “He didn’t look like he wanted to beg, he looked crazy for having to do it.”

Jonah E. Bromwich, Jeffrey C. Mace And Andy Newman Contributed report.

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