Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has called on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to pardon the Marine veteran who was seen in a video putting Jordan Neely in a fatal chokehold on a New York City subway this month.
Neely, a homeless subway busker who performed dance routines in costume as Michael Jackson, was pronounced dead after Daniel Penny put him in a chokehold for about 15 minutes after a verbal dispute escalated into an altercation, according to police. The video showed two other subway riders appearing to help restrain Neely.
In an interview Tuesday night on Fox News, Haley urged Hochul, a Democrat, to pardon Penny: “No question about it. She needs to pardon him right away. It’s the right thing to do.” She argued that it’s in Penny’s “blood to defend and protect” as someone who served in the military.
“He saw danger,” Haley said. “He was trying to protect himself and the other people on that subway, and the idea that Bragg would go and indict him this way without an investigation without any sort of grand jury really what I think needs to happen.”
Haley also accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of “letting street crime happen all over New York City.”
“Criminals will continue to rule the streets of New York, because they will know that there’s no accountability for anyone who tries to stop them,” she said. “And if she pardons him, that sets a right on a lot of things — it’ll put criminals on notice. And it’ll let people like Penny who really were very brave in that instance, it will let them know that we’ve got their back.”
Penny was arraigned on a second-degree manslaughter charge that Neely’s family suggested was too lenient.
Attorneys for Neely’s family said he suffered from mental illness after his mother was murdered in 2007.
Juan Alberto Vazquez, a witness who partly captured the incident in a video recorded on his cellphone, told NBC New York that Neely got on the subway car and began saying that he was hungry and thirsty and that he “didn’t care about anything, he didn’t care about going to jail, he didn’t care that he gets a big life sentence.” Neely also said that “it doesn’t even matter if I died,” according to Vazquez.
Neely’s death has sparked a national debate, with people denouncing vigilantism and some politicians demanding that officials do more to address homelessness, mental health and violence on subways.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Bragg should have charged Penny immediately. She also criticized New York Mayor Eric Adams for not condemning the killing in a statement.
Ocasio-Cortez called Adams’ statement a “new low.” “Not being able to clearly condemn a public murder because the victim was of a social status some would deem ‘too low’ to care about,” she tweeted.
Demonstrators protesting Neely's death gathered on crowded subway platforms across New York City and marched down streets in the days after the incident. Advocacy groups and Neely's supporters have demanded justice for his killing, better social services for people with mental health issues and reform to local policies that, they say, further marginalize unhoused communities in the city.
Meanwhile, right-wing political figures and groups have compared Penny to a good Samaritan who rescued the public from danger.
“Let’s show this Marine … America’s got his back,” Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted Friday.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., similarly called Penny a “Subway Superman.”
DeSantis and Gaetz promoted a campaign to raise money for Penny’s legal defense that was set up on GiveSendGo, the Christian crowdsourcing platform that has also been used to raise money for some people arrested in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., tweeted that Penny “is a hero” and that Neely “was a violent criminal who should have been behind bars.” Fox News host Sean Hannity also depicted Penny as a brave veteran who “subdued” Neely.