The death of New York City subway rider and familiar Michael Jackson street impersonator Jordan Neely has been ruled a homicide, the city’s medical examiner said last night.
Neely had been placed in a chokehold by a fellow subway rider Monday after the homeless man began screaming at passengers and behaving erratically. In a widely viewed cellphone video shared on social media by another passenger, the 30-year-old Neely can be seen struggling as another man – later identified only as a 24-year-old man with prior military training – holds him in a chokehold on the subway floor.
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The man who taped the incident has said that Neely entered the subway car yelling about being hungry and thirsty, and shouted, “I don’t mind going to jail and getting life in prison. I’m ready to die.” Some reports suggest Neely had made threatening comments, and that he then took off his black jacket and threw it on the ground.
At that point, apparently, the 24-year-old man approached Neely from behind and subdued him by placing him in the chokehold.
The four-minute video shows other passengers joining in to restrain Neely, who eventually goes completely limp. Medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer has confirmed that Neely died from compression to his neck as a result of the chokehold.
Neely had gone unconscious on the floor of the moving F subway train in Lower Manhattan. Police arrived on the scene after Neely had stopped moving, and released the 24-year-old man after some initial questioning. Neely was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
With last night’s homicide ruling, as well as growing outrage among the city’s homeless advocates and some politicians, the investigation will no doubt take on greater urgency. The NYPD says it is investigating the death, as has the Manhattan District Attorney.
The incident is especially volatile since it taps into divisive racial issues (Neely was Black, and the former Marine is white), as well as perceptions of rising subway violence and seeming increases in the numbers of mentally ill homeless people in the post-Covid streets and mass transit.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams called the death “tragic” but noted, “there’s a lot we don’t know about what happened here.”
“However, we do know that there were serious mental health issues in play here,” Adams continued, “which is why our administration has made record investments in providing care to those who need it and getting people off the streets and the subways, and out of dangerous situations.”
Local news accounts reported that Neely had a fairly extensive criminal record – though it was unclear why types of crimes – and was at least somewhat known to both subway transit police and advocates for the homeless and mentally ill.
Neely was also known to many New Yorkers and tourists for his impressive dance impersonation of Michael Jackson, which he would often perform in the Times Square transit hub near the Broadway theater district.
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