Outrage mounts over chokehold death of Michael Jackson impersonator in clash with veteran US Marine on NYC subway
Friends and elected officials decried the death of Jordan Neely on Wednesday, 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 Michael Jackson.
“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. Or where the killer is justified & cheered.”
When asked on Wednesday if the Marine should be criminally charged, Gov. 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 Marine. “That was deeply disturbing and it causes a lot of fear in people.”
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 Marine, cops said.
The quarrel turned into a brawl as the train entered the station.
During the fight, the Marine put the victim in a chokehold and tried to restrain him.
A video of the confrontation shows the Marine, who lives in Long Island and is currently in between deployments, 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 disturbing video.
Neely fell unconscious on the train as the 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.
“(He) was a very good Michael Jackson impersonator,” said Mike Cole, who created a GoFundMe page for Neely’s family. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $1,000 had been raised for the impersonator’s funeral expenses.
“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 family 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.
Police and Manhattan prosecutors are awaiting the results of the autopsy before determining if criminal charges should be filed. A spokeswoman for the city Medical Examiner said the autopsy results were pending Wednesday.
Critics charge that the 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.
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 Neely was homeless and hungry when he acted out on the Manhattan train.
Rafael Shimunov, co-host of the radio show Beyond the Pale on WBAI, said that all Neely did was throw his jacket to the ground and ask straphangers for food and water.
“(He was) a hungry New Yorker choked to death by a grinning Marine who is being celebrated as a hero by NYPD and press,” Shimunov tweeted. “His offense? ‘Aggressive speech.’”
The Marine was taken in for questioning but released without charges as the investigation continues. As he held the victim in the chokehold he asked witnesses to call 911, police sources said.
When reached by phone, the Marine declined to comment.
“I’m not answering any questions,” he said. “I appreciate it, but I’m not answering any questions.”
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.”
(With Molly Crane-Newman and Michael Gartland)