Jordan Neely, a 30-year-old homeless man with a long history of psychosis, had only been in his court-mandated mental health program for two weeks before he strolled out the door.
Less than three months later, the former street performer lay dead on the floor of a subway car after former Marine Daniel Penny locked him in a fatal chokehold when Neely went on a particularly explosive tirade.
Neely’s death — in addition to sparking outrage and protests — has illuminated a glaring gap in New York law, which lets prosecutors offer treatment instead of prison to those suffering from mental illness but grants authorities few tools to make sure they complete their assigned program.
His family blames the authorities for letting Neely walk free when he clearly could not care for himself.
“How do you tell someone ‘Listen, you need to go to a mental health facility,’ but you also give them the power to check themselves out?” Jordan’s uncle, Christopher Neely, told The Post.
“Jordan would have been alive if they made sure he stuck around to get the treatment he needed,” he continued.
“The system failed him. For real.”
Court records reviewed by The Post show Neely in February had agreed to intensive outpatient treatment as part of a plea deal with Manhattan prosecutors that spared him prison time for a 2021 assault.
But he apparently didn’t want to stay — and there was little anyone could do to stop him from signing himself out and fading into the wind.
A judge could issue a bench warrant, as the judge in Neely’s case did the day after he left treatment.
But by then, it’s often too late, sources and experts said.
“The warrant squad has no way to find them, even if they looked,” said one official familiar with Neely’s case.
“They’re just out there. That was Neely.”
Neely died on May 1 during the confrontation with Penny, 24, who grabbed him as he yelled and threw trash at other riders on an F-train in Manhattan.
The city medical examiner has ruled his death a homicide.
No one has been charged.
Defense attorneys, former prosecutors, mental health experts and homeless advocates all agree that there’s a problem — and that Neely isn’t the only one falling through the cracks.
“This has been happening every day for years,” said Mark Bederow, a former Manhattan prosecutor who now works as a criminal defense attorney.
“There needs to be a serious reevaluation whether these in-patient programs have to have some degree of supervision or authority,” Bederow said.
“I’m not sure it makes any sense to just allow someone to walk out and have the facility shrug its shoulders.”
Neely’s plea deal on Feb. 9 required that he stay out of trouble for 15 months.
In exchange, he’d avoid prison for allegedly slugging a 67-year-old woman in November 2021 during a psychotic episode.
But because plea agreements are voluntary, those that force defendants to go to treatment are viewed by the law as voluntary admissions, meaning officials can’t compel attendance or compliance — they can only yank the deal if it’s breached.
Michael Discioarro, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in The Bronx, said that’s a foundational problem. Especially when you’re dealing with the mentally ill.
“These programs work when the defendant fully understands his obligations,” Discioarro said.
“The severely mentally ill, sadly, live with the oppressive burden of mental health, addiction, and other traumas that simply don’t allow them to succeed without a high level of supervision,” he continued.
“Thus, when we send someone to these programs, we may be setting them up for failure — as much as we want to help them,” Discioarro said.
“It can result in catastrophic consequences “
Tracking him through an electronic bracelet wasn’t feasible, either.
Sources said the Sheriff’s Office wouldn’t monitor someone who took that sort of plea deal.
NYC subway choking victim Jordan Neely: What we know
When: May 1, 2023
Who: Jordan Neely, 30, a homeless man was fatally strangled aboard a northbound F train just before
2:30 p.m., according to police.
He reportedly started acting erratically on the train and harassing other passengers before being
restrained and ultimately choked by a straphanger, identified as a 24-year-old marine from Queens.
The marine, who was seen on video applying the chokehold, was taken into custody and later released
but the DA is mulling charges, which could include involuntary manslaughter, according to experts.
Fallout: The city medical examiner ruled Neely’s death a homicide, noting he died due to “compression
of neck (chokehold).” This will be weighed during the investigation into whether charges will be brought
for Neely’s death.
Neely’s aunt told The Post that he became a “complete mess” following the brutal murder of his mother
in 2007. She noted he was schizophrenic while suffering from PTSD and depression.
“The whole system just failed him. He fell through the cracks of the system,” Carolyn Neely said.
Law enforcement sources said Neely had “numerous” arrests on his record, including for drugs,
disorderly conduct, and fare beating.
At the time of his death, Neely had a warrant out for his arrest for a November 2021 case where he was
accused of assaulting a 67-year-old woman in the East Village, the sources said.
Mayor Eric Adams has said it’s important for the DA to complete the investigation into Neely’s death and
not rush to conclusions.
“Electronic monitoring can’t be used as a prophylactic measure for crime,” a source told The Post.
“It’s only [to make sure someone] returns to court. It’s not used to keep [a defendant] in a program.”
The ink was barely dry before Neely took off.
On Feb. 23, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben was told Neely hadn’t held up his end of the bargain.
“We were informed today that Mr. Neely left Harbor House yesterday, I think, against clinical advice,” she told attorneys.
Then she signed off on a warrant for Neely’s arrest.
He was no stranger to the system — in total, Neely had racked up more than 40 arrests on a lengthy rap sheet about 43 calls for an “aided case,” which means someone is sick, injured or mentally ill, sources have said.
He’d sunk into a deep depression after his stepfather brutally murdered his mom in 2007, and his family has said he struggled with schizophrenia for years.
Officials had also put him on a list of New Yorkers who frequently cycled through the system, bouncing from shelters to the street to hospitals for treatment, forever unable to find their footing.
In 2020, he was committed to Bellevue Hospital for a week, according to The New York Times.
He returned to the streets afterward, and was later accused of assaulting two women — one in August 2021 and another in November 2021.
Cops arrested him and he was held at Rikers Island on bail for 15 months while he awaited trial.
Court transcripts show that a mental health evaluation tied Neely’s violence to his history of mental illness and drug abuse.
Catherine Trapani, executive director of Homeless Services United, said the state missed its chance to help the troubled young man.
“If things were functioning as they should have, when this kid was 14 years old and his mother was murdered — that was the time to figure out how to help him,” Trapani told The Post.
“Because that didn’t happen, he was been severely disadvantage.”
A better solution might have been to find Neely a permanent home — then at least he, his social workers and his treatment team would have a home base, she said.
There were glimmers of hope three months before he died.
At his plea agreement hearing on Feb. 9, Biben quizzed Neely about the deal.
“What is the goal today?” Biben asked.
“To make it physically and mentally to the program,” Neely responded.
“That’s right,” Biben said.
“And once you get to the program?”
Neely’s answer was two words long: “Don’t leave.”
Additional reporting by Jack Morphet and Larry Celona
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