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Charging Daniel Penny, the Subway Samaritan

Lesson here: 1. On a subway. Don't get involved.

Penny screwed up, but I suspect didn't do so intentionally. Throwing him in the slammer for up to 15 years seems a bit overboard. Hopefully the court finds a more reasonable solution to an unfortunate situation.

Sadly this has turned into a political football.

Charging Daniel Penny, the Subway Samaritan

The 24-year-old veteran faces a second-degree manslaughter charge after he intervened to subdue a mentally ill man behaving erratically.

By The Editorial Board, WSJ

May 12, 2023 6:24 pm ET

Daniel Penny is walked out of the New York Police Department 5th Precinct in Lower Manhattan, May 12.

Every subway rider in New York City knows the experience. You get on a train, and a passenger nearby is shouting to himself or at others. He may ask for money or harass a passenger. You move away as far as you can, perhaps wondering if you should intervene to calm him down or stop the harassment. Should you take the risk? Most of us walk away and get on another subway car.

Daniel Penny, a Marine veteran, took that risk on May 1 and intervened to subdue Jordan Neely, a homeless man who was acting erratically, shouting and claiming he had little to live for. Mr. Penny subdued Neely, put him in a chokehold, and Neely died. On Friday the Manhattan district attorney charged Mr. Penny with second-degree manslaughter for which he could serve up to 15 years in prison.

Neely’s death is a tragedy, but the charges against Mr. Penny raise troubling questions about the decline of public order and the way the mentally ill have been left to fend for themselves on our streets and public spaces.

Neely’s death led to a demand for prosecution from the usual political suspects, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Progressives have organized public protests and Neely’s family called for Mr. Penny to be charged. Alvin Bragg, the progressive Manhattan D.A. who refuses to prosecute many crimes, has decided this is one case he wants to use as a public example.

Neely was all too typical of the mentally ill who wander New York streets and subway platforms. He was homeless and well known to New York police as a drifter who complained of being mentally ill and sometimes suicidal. His family says his mental stability went downhill after his mother was murdered in 2007.

He had been arrested many times but never seems to have received adequate treatment. “The whole system just failed him. He fell through the cracks of the system,” his aunt told the New York Post.

Decades ago the U.S. made a decision to end the institutionalization of all but the most dangerous mentally ill, but too many of them now wander the streets and occasionally turn violent. Several have pushed unsuspecting passengers onto the subway tracks to their deaths, in stories New Yorkers know too well.

Was Mr. Penny wrong to intervene? The details of what happened will presumably be presented at trial, but it’s clear his intention wasn’t to kill Neely. It was to protect himself and others. As a 24-year-old veteran, he may have felt a particular responsibility to do so. We sometimes call such men good samaritans when they intervene to stop a shooter or step between a young woman and a harasser.

Mr. Penny’s lawyers say their client “never intended to harm Mr. Neely and could not have foreseen his untimely death.” They add that they are “confident that once all the facts and circumstances surrounding this tragic incident are brought to bear, Mr. Penny will be fully absolved of any wrongdoing.”

Even if Mr. Penny is acquitted by a jury, the charges against him will surely deter other potential samaritans from intervening to subdue a seemingly dangerous person or even to stop a robbery or assault. If you do and something goes wrong in New York, you will be the one prosecuted.

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