Chokehold death of homeless busker Jordan Neely ruled a homicide as outrage grows over caught-on-video subway killing
NEW YORK — The caught-on-video chokehold death of a homeless, mentally ill Michael Jackson impersonator by a former U.S. Marine aboard a Manhattan subway train was ruled a homicide Wednesday as anger and protests erupted over the killing.
The city medical examiner found the cause of victim Jordan Neely’s death Monday was compression of the neck. The finding is a critical piece of the investigation as police said they were awaiting the results of the autopsy before determining if criminal charges should be filed.
The determination came after friends and elected officials expressed outrage over the death, insisting the homeless busker didn’t deserve to die. Neely, 30, was a familiar sight around town, performing in Times Square and on subways as the King of Pop.
“NYC is not Gotham,” city Comptroller Brad Lander tweeted. “We must not become a city where a mentally ill human being can be choked to death by a vigilante without consequence. ”
At least three people were handcuffed after a demonstration inside the Broadway-Lafayette station, where Neely died, and a subsequent march in the local streets.
Dozens of protesters and police faced off during a tense vigil-turned-protest on the crowded uptown platform, with activists chanting “Justice for Jordan Neely” and other slogans.
“They murdered a Black man and his only crime was screaming on a train,” Logan, a 30-year-old Brooklynite, told the New York Daily News. “This should not have happened. If you’re a native New Yorker, you’ve seen people having an outburst on a regular basis. That’s not a reason (to kill them).”
Friends Johnny Grima and James King came to the vigil, saying they had witnessed the Monday incident.
“They f---ing killed him, man. They choked him til he went unconscious and then they kept choking him,” Grima said.
“We didn’t do anything to stop it. To be honest with you, we are guilty of that,” he added.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office is investigating the death.
When asked Wednesday if the ex-Marine should be criminally charged, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she had just seen the video and needed to find “whether the state has a role” in the investigation.
“There’s consequences for behavior,” she said, although it wasn’t immediately clear if she was referring to Neely or the passenger who applied the chokehold.
Neely was on an F train heading toward the Broadway-Lafayette stop in NoHo when he began acting erratically around 2:30 p.m. Monday, passengers told police. He yelled and threw garbage at commuters, prompting an argument with the 24-year-old ex-Marine, cops said.
The quarrel turned into a brawl as the train entered the station.
During the fight, the former Marine put the victim in a chokehold and tried to restrain him.
A video of the confrontation shows the ex-Marine, with his left arm around Neely’s neck as they struggle.
A second man helped restrain Neely, who turned on his side and continued kicking his legs until he finally stopped moving about two minutes into the video.
Neely fell unconscious on the train as the ex-Marine held him in the chokehold. A conductor called for police, the video shows. First responders took Neely to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he died.
King, one of the self-described witnesses, told the Daily News that the scene was “very disturbing to watch.”
“He wasn’t conscious, he wasn’t responsive, and the man still had him in the headlock,” he quietly said.
Mike Cole, who created a GoFundMe page for Neely’s family, described the victim as “a very good Michael Jackson impersonator.
“Over the years, multiple videos have been seen across the internet of him emulating the King of Pop garnishing thousands of views,” Cole said. “He was a natural raw talent who touched a lot of people’s lives. Jordan was a very loving and caring individual who did not deserve to have his life taken like this.”
An autopsy into Neely’s death was inconclusive, a police source familiar with the case said Wednesday.
Further tests have to be done on the muscle tissue in the performer’s neck to see if he had been strangled or if the chokehold played a role in his death, the source said.
The ex-Marine who applied the chokehold separated from service in 2021 following four years of in the corps, attaining the rank of sergeant, the Marines said in a statement.
Critics charge that the former Marine, based on his training in hand-to-hand combat, should have known how dangerous it could be to keep Neely in a chokehold for several minutes.
Years ago, the NYPD banned cops from using chokeholds like the one seen in the video after outrage over the chokehold death of Eric Garner on Staten Island during a bungled arrest helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement.
Neely has a documented mental health history with the NYPD, had been arrested more than 40 times and was a suspect in a 2021 assault, authorities said.
Friends and fans of the Michael Jackson impersonator said he was homeless and hungry when he acted out on the Manhattan train.
The ex-Marine was taken in for questioning but released without charges as the investigation continued. As he held the victim in the chokehold he asked witnesses to call 911, police sources said.
When reached by phone, he declined to comment.
“I’m not answering any questions,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I’m not answering any questions.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton invoked the name of subway gunman Bernie Goetz in a statement, recalling his shootings of four Black youths on a train beneath Manhattan just before Christmas in 1984.
“Thirty years ago, I fought the Bernhard Goetz case and we cannot end up back to a place where vigilantism is tolerable,” he said. “It wasn’t acceptable then, and it can’t be acceptable now.”
Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Dave Giffen said Neely’s death was the result of “Gov. Hochuls’ and Mayor Adams’ complete failure to provide the critical mental health services desperately needed by so many people in our city.”
“The fact that someone who took the life of a distressed, mentally ill human being on a subway could be set free without facing any consequences is shocking,” Giffen said. “This is an absolute travesty that must be investigated immediately.”
(New York Daily News staff writers Molly Crane-Newman, Michael Gartland and Janon Fisher contributed to this story.)