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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

Daniel Penny: Is He a "Good Samaritan" or Criminal?

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on May 14, 2023

IMAGE: Jordan Neely (left) and Daniel Penny (right).

An Editorial Opinion


On May 1, 2023, Marine veteran Daniel Penny fatally choked Jordan Neely on a New York City subway after the homeless man threatened passengers. On May 12, 2023, Penny was charged with second degree manslaughter charges for Neely’s death.


Conservatives see Daniel Penny a “Good Samaritan.” Manhattan District Attorney views him as a criminal.


The photo below will be material in deciding this criminal case.


Daniel Penny’s chokehold was executed as part of his citizen’s arrest of Neely. Penny was obviously trained in the Marines on how to engage in hand-to-hand combat, including how to administer the chokehold as a deadly force.


Did Jordan Neely have training in the use of hand-to-hand combat? Apparently not.


What Amount of Force was Penny Authorized to Use in Making His Citizen's Arrest?


A citizen's arrest is allowed in New York, but it is subject to certain limitations and conditions. Under New York law, a private citizen may arrest another person if he/she has witnessed a felony being committed, or if he/she has reasonable cause to believe that a person has committed a felony and is about to escape or cause harm.


It appears that Daniel Penny had probable cause to arrest Jordan Neely based upon Neely's threats to passengers on the subway train. It also appears that Neely did not banish any kind of weapon (e.g., knife, pistol, assault rifle, baseball bat, machete, etc.) when uttering his threats of harm to passengers. Additionally, two other passengers assisted Penny in making his citizen's arrest.


However, there are important limitations to a citizen's arrest in New York. The first and most important limitation is this: Daniel Penny could only use reasonable force to make his arrest of Jordan Neely.


Second, New York State passed a law in 2020 that banned police officers from using chokeholds. In making his citizen’s arrest, Danny Penny was not authorized under the state’s citizen’s arrest statute to use greater force than a police officer could have used in making the arrest.


Daniel Penny used a category of deadly force that was banned by New York State law, and Jordan Neely died as a result of Penny’s chokehold.


Even in the states that permit chokeholds, they are only allowed in certain situations. For example, some police departments may allow police officers to use chokeholds as a last resort when other use-of-force options have failed or when an officer's life is in danger. This was not the case in Daniel Penny’s arrest of Jordan Neely.


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' attempt to politicize Penny’s chokehold is nothing more than a cheap gimmick to jumpstart his lackluster 2024 presidential campaign. However, this gimmick is dangerous because it could easily lead to an unwanted and unwarranted rise in vigilantism across the nation.


This case will be an uphill climb for Daniel Penny. Sometimes, good intentions have bad consequences. This case is one of those times.

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