Seeing death before him: Eyewitness to Jordan Neely’s death discusses the violent scene

Johnny Grima says he witnessed the killing of Jordan Neely first hand.
Photo by Dean Moses

Johnny Grima knows more than most the anguish of being homeless and the pain that comes along with it, but now he says he must grapple with more grief — the killing of Jordan Neely.

Grima is no stranger to trauma himself, he spent years on living on the street and was even arrested several times in 2022 as a result of the mayor’s encampment sweeps after refusing to take down his shelter in the East Village.

According to Grima, he was riding the F train home on May 1 with his friend and had been engaged in conversation. He mistakenly missed his stop, and that’s when he said the first signs of trouble came forth on the public address system.

“We’re talking for a while, the train stopped, we’re talking for a bit and then we hear the train announcer say for police to come to one of the front cars,” Grima recalled in an interview with amNewYork Metro. “I say hey, we got to transfer anyway, let’s go check out what’s going on.”

Grima remembers that as he made his way to the front of the train via the platform he saw that a crowd had already gathered around the car, prompting him to push through the throng of spectators to gain a better view. It is here, Grima said, that he spotted the man who has been identified in published reports as Daniel Penny allegedly choking Neely. 

Jordan Neely after the choke hold. Photo by Johnny Grima.

“When I get there, I see who we now know as Daniel Penny choking out Jordan Neely and there’s another guy holding onto him, he’s holding onto them for dear life, but Jordan Neely is not moving and his eyes are staring off into space,” Grima said. “I just didn’t know the context of what was going on… I regret that now.”

When Neely was released, Grima said,  his body was limp and he was left with a blank stare. After suggesting to turn Neely on his side, Penny and several others reportedly flipped Neely over. Grima then attempted to pour water over Neely’s head when he said Penny stopped him.

“I had resolved by that point to try and see if he’s okay. I poured a little water on his head and Daniel Penny came over and said ‘Stop’ to me,” Grima said. “I feel bad I let him stop me.”

According to Grima, another commuter announces that Neely apparently still had a pulse, yet Grima felt there was still something wrong due to the vacant look in his eyes, which is why he said he attempted to document the incident by snapping a few photographs.

While opinions have been running wild in regard to exactly what Penny’s intentions were when the deadly chokehold was locked in, Grima says while he does not think the former marine woke up in the morning set to kill a man, he does believe however, that Penny exhibited a startling disregard for the life of a homeless man of color.

“I think he didn’t have any concern for the life of a poor Black homeless man with mental health issues, that’s what I think. I think that if it had been another race of person maybe he wouldn’t have squeezed on his neck for ten minutes plus,” Grima said.

As of Monday, no criminal charges have been filed in the case, though investigations are ongoing.