July 24, 2021

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Woman Who Tackled Black Teen at Soho Hotel Is Charged with Hate Crime – The New York Times

3 min read

A California woman who falsely accused a teenager of stealing her phone and then attacked him at a New York City hotel was charged with a hate crime on Wednesday.

Miya Ponsetto, 22, pleaded not guilty to two counts of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, one count of second-degree aggravated harassment and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. She was arraigned in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan over video call.

Ms. Ponsetto gained widespread attention after a video was released of her confronting Keyon Harrold Jr., then 14, in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel in SoHo in December.

Credit…Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

In the video, which was recorded by Keyon’s father, the prominent jazz musician Keyon Harrold, Ms. Ponsetto, who is of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese descent, tackles the teenager, who is Black, after accusing him of stealing her phone.

She can be heard yelling in the video, “No, I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!”

The phone was later found and returned by an Uber driver.

Ms. Ponsetto had already been charged with attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and attempted assault earlier this year, but the office of Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, brought additional charges, including hate crimes charges, on Wednesday.

“We intend on fighting this very vigorously, especially in the wake of the embellished charges District Attorney Vance has charged Miya Ponsetto with,” Ms. Ponsetto’s lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, said.

Mr. Harrold said his family was moving forward with a lawsuit against the Arlo Hotel and Ms. Ponsetto.

“I’m feeling hopeful,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “Obviously as Black people, it’s hard to believe in a system and believe that the system will work for me and for my family. But to see that there’s work being done to change things is something so positive.”

Mr. Harrold said he believed the hotel had “empowered” Ms. Ponsetto and that it had done nothing to protect his son. A representative for the hotel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

He said that he was still baffled that a day that was meant to be a fun father-and-son outing had been derailed.

“Our life changed because somebody having the entitlement and idea that just because of the way my son looked he was the one who stole her property, which is so ridiculous,” Mr. Harrold said. “It’s been a couple of months, but every time I talk about it, it brings back all kinds of emotions — like the fear that if I wasn’t there to protect my son, what could have happened?”

Mr. Harrold said he hoped his son’s encounter with Ms. Ponsetto highlighted how common it is for Black people to be harassed simply for existing in spaces that others believe they shouldn’t be in.

“When people are falsely accused, it powers the system of injustice and powers the system of inequality,” he said. “And it marginalizes people of color disproportionately.”

Ms. Ponsetto found herself in more hot water after she was interviewed by Gayle King on “CBS This Morning” and the interview went viral earlier this year.

Ms. Ponsetto downplayed her actions during the interview, and suggested that she couldn’t be racist because she was a woman of color. She even lifted her hand up to silence Ms. King at one point, saying “enough.”

“It didn’t seem like my accusations bothered the son and father because they were enjoying a nice meal after this whole encounter,” she said in the interview.

She was arrested in connection with the hotel episode hours later.

Ms. Ponsetto had also faced charges in unrelated cases in California, where she was accused of public intoxication, driving with a suspended license and getting into altercations with her mother and police officers.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Ms. Ponsetto, who remains under court-supervised release in California, spoke quietly and said little. Her next court appearance is set for Oct. 20.

Ashley Wong and Mihir Zaveri contributed reporting.

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