Daniel Penny

Ex-Marine Daniel Penny told The Washington Post on Saturday that Jordan Neely’s chokehold death had nothing to do with race, and everything to do with a broken system “that so desperately failed us.”

Penny was soft-spoken and stoic about being at the center of a political and racial firestorm in his first public comments since the caught-on-video May 1 tragedy on a F train, as he faces criminal charges that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.

“This had nothing to do with race,” Penny, 24, said as he sat beneath a gazebo in Argyle Park in Babylon, not far from the Long Island beaches where he grew up surfing.

Penny, who was dressed in black slacks, a blue zip-up jacket, and beat-up Vans sneakers, didn’t flinch when asked about Neely, a 30-year-old black mentally ill homeless man.

“I evaluate people based on their character. I’m not a supporter of white supremacy.

“I mean, it’s a little bit comical.” Everyone who has ever met me will tell you that I adore all people and cultures. My past, as well as all of my travels and adventures around the world, demonstrate this. Before this happened, I was planning a road trip through Africa.”

Penny stated that he is not a vigilante. “I’m just a normal guy.”

The train brawl began when Neely allegedly began yelling at other passengers and throwing trash. Penny said he couldn’t go into detail about what happened next because of his pending case, but it wasn’t like “anything I’d experienced before.”

“This time was much different,” Penny remarked.

He paused before saying, “This time was very different.”

Penny’s attorney, Thomas Kenniff of the Manhattan law firm Raiser & Kenniff, stated that other F train passengers will support his client’s story.

“I can tell you that Jordan Neely’s threats, menacing, and terror on that train have already been well documented.” I don’t believe it will even be debated. There are numerous witnesses from various walks of life who have no motivation to do anything other than recount what happened. They have consistent recollections of events.”

Penny said he was coming back to Manhattan from school and was en route to his gym on West 23rd Street when the chaotic encounter erupted. He did not want to name the school where he is studying architecture. He is now taking classes remotely.

“I was going to my gym,” Penny explained. “There’s a swimming pool there.” I enjoy swimming. I lived in the East Village. I take the subway several times per day. I believe New York’s public transportation system is the best in the world, and I’ve traveled extensively.”

According to witnesses and video of the fatal encounter, Penny grabbed Neely around the neck and threw him to the ground as a second and third man tried to restrain him further.

The city medical examiner has ruled Neely’s death a homicide, noting he died due to “compression of neck (chokehold).”

Penny is being held on $100,000 bail after being charged with second-degree manslaughter. It is unclear whether authorities will seek charges against the other two men. According to Penny’s attorney, Steven M. Raiser, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has six months to secure a grand jury indictment against Penny.

Penny should be tried for murder, according to Neely’s family.

However, Penny’s attorneys claim that when he choked Neely, he was merely defending himself and fellow straphangers from a threatening homeless man with a long history of mental illness and numerous prior arrests.

When asked what he would say to Jordan Neely’s family at his funeral on Friday, Penny looked solemn and carefully selected his words.

“I’m deeply saddened by the loss of life,” he said. “What happened to him is tragic.” Hopefully, we will be able to change the system that has so badly failed us.”

But when asked if he would do it again in a similar situation, Penny nodded.

“You know, I live a genuine and authentic life,” Penny said. “And I would if there was a present threat and danger…”

Is he embarrassed by anything he did?

“I don’t, I mean, I always do what I think is right.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton said at Neely’s funeral in Harlem on Friday, “We can’t live in a city where you can choke me to death with no provocation, no weapon, no threat, and you go home and sleep in your bed while my family has to bury me.”

Neely was held in the chokehold that eventually led to his death, for 15 minutes.

Penny nodded but stated that he is “not sure” who Sharpton is. “I don’t really know any celebrities that well.”

He also stated that he does not follow the news. While he is aware of some of the criticism directed at him — and admitted to being surprised by the media barrage — he remained philosophical.

“When faced with all of these challenges, you must remain calm. What’s the point of worrying about something if it’s not going to solve your problems? This is due to my father and grandfather. They are extremely stoic.”

“When faced with all of these challenges, you must remain calm. What’s the point of worrying about something if it’s not going to solve your problems? This is due to my father and grandfather. They are extremely stoic.”

Penny stated that he stopped using social media years ago.

“I don’t follow anyone, and I don’t use social media because I don’t like being the center of attention, and I believe there are better ways to spend your time.” I dislike being in the spotlight.”

Penny, who has three sisters, stated that he has been surrounded by family and friends since the incident and that his family is “hanging in there.”

“My mother is fine,” he said. “My sisters get it. They are all behind me.”

Penny described her childhood in West Islip as “relatively happy.” He was the fourth of four children. His parents divorced when he was young.

His grandfathers, one of whom immigrated from Italy, are his two role models, he says. The other grandfather is an immigrant from Italy who is a first-generation American. He said he moved around a lot in the West Islip area due to his parents’ divorce, but he spent much of his formative years in a house right by the sea that his great-grandfather purchased in the 1960s.

“My grandmother was raised there,” Penny mentioned. “My father and his brothers were then raised there.” Then my sisters and I were able to grow up there. I’m extremely grateful. It’s a lovely house right on the water. We couldn’t have lived that lifestyle on the water if it hadn’t been for my family.”

Penny said his parents’ divorce was difficult but it had an upside.

“It brought me and my sisters closer. You know, we’re really close. I love my sisters. I have three of them. I’d do anything for them.”

Penny went to Suffolk Community College after graduating from West Islip High School, where he was a lacrosse standout, before joining the Marine Corps.

“Growing up in a community full of firemen, first responders, and police officers in the aftermath of 9/11 and the terrorist attacks, I felt compelled to serve my community in some way.”

Penny served with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit on two deployments.

“We went to Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Greece and Spain,” he said. “We stayed off the coast of Iran for a bit. It was during that whole drone thing when they were shooting stuff down and stuff.”

Penny also went to Okinawa, Japan.

“I love to travel,” he explained. “It definitely changed my perspective on the world.” I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel so extensively. Just the friendliness and welcoming nature of everyone and everything I encountered. And even before I deployed, you know, a lot of my platoonmates came from all over, particularly Central America and Mexico, and I’ve opened my eyes to their cultures and perspectives.”

“I loved leading Marines and I loved being around Marines,” he said of his time in the Marine Corps, where he rose to the rank of sergeant. “I love helping people.”

Penny stated that he “didn’t try to become a leader” while serving in the Marine Corps.

Penny stated that he did not “try to become a leader” in the Marine Corps. “I just did what needed to be done.” And I believe that growing up in a predominantly female household teaches you to lead in a variety of ways from a young age. You learn to be compassionate and humble — to disregard your own perspective and to be compassionate to the perspectives of others.”

The transition from the Marines was a “tough transition.”

“I really missed the interaction,” he confessed. “You know, I missed the adventure. So, last summer, I decided to drive from New York to Nicaragua, passing through Mexico and Central America.”

Penny stated that he drove cross-country and then down to Mexico, mostly alone but with a friend at times. He said he was trapped on a mountain for 48 hours after being caught in a bad hurricane in an enchanted forest in Oaxaca.

“My car got stuck in a landslide,” Penny explained. “We had to hike to a nearby village for assistance in digging us out.” They were extremely friendly and helpful. They truly treated me as if I were family.

“You hear so many bad things about these places,” Penny commented. “I just wanted to see for myself, and thankfully, I was proven right that these people were always welcoming and friendly, and treated me like family everywhere.”

Last year, Penny was sitting in a coffee shop in Guatemala when he “suddenly felt overwhelmingly at home.”

“I was in a coffee shop in Antigua, Guatemala. And I was just overwhelmed by a sense of home, despite the fact that I couldn’t be further from home. So, obviously, I attribute that to the locals there. They were warmly welcomed, as was the structure in which I was sitting. It was there that I decided I wanted to study architecture and possibly help other people feel at home.”

Penny attributes his calm demeanor to his frequent days on the water, and he plans to surf Saturday afternoon after the interview to let off steam.

“I’ve been surfing my entire life,” he said. “Growing up on the water, growing up at the beach, it’s what my father and grandfather did, too.”

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