Miya Ponsetto Pleads Guilty to Tackling Black Teen at SoHo Hotel

A California woman who accosted a black teenager at a SoHo hotel after falsely accusing him of stealing her cellphone pleaded guilty Monday to one felony hate crime charge stemming from the altercation. Parts of it were captured on widely viewed video.

Under the terms of her plea, the woman, 23-year-old Miya Ponsetto, avoided jail time and can re-plead to a misdemeanor misdemeanor charge without a hate crime element if she completes her release. probation in a California drunk driving case. She must also continue counseling and have no run-ins with the criminal justice system for the next two years, officials said.

The hotel episode was a high-profile example of the kind of false accusation that blacks routinely face in New York and elsewhere. It came several months after a white woman called 911 to falsely claim that a black birder in Central Park was threatening her life. (Last year, an attorney for Ms. Ponsetto said that she is of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese descent.)

In a statement announcing Ms. Ponsetto’s guilty plea, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, highlighted what he said was her “outrageous behavior” in approaching Keyon Harrold Jr., the 14-year-old son of a prominent jazz musician, in the lobby. of the Arlo Hotel in December 2020.

“As a black man, I have personally experienced racial profiling countless times in my life, and I sympathize with the young victim of this incident,” Bragg said in the statement. “This statement ensures that Ms. Ponsetto is properly held accountable by addressing the underlying causes of her behavior and ensuring that this behavior does not happen again.”

Ms. Ponsetto’s attorney, Paul D’Emilia, said in a statement that he and his client “were pleased that today’s proceeding brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final resolution.”

“We appreciate the district attorney’s thoughtful and empathetic approach to finding an acceptable conclusion,” D’Emilia added in the statement, “especially in light of the unreasonable pressure exerted by many voices unfamiliar with the more granular details. of what happened that night.

The “many voices” comment was an apparent reference to the public outrage the episode sparked when video capturing parts of it began bouncing around social media shortly after the altercation occurred on December 26, 2020.

The video was shot by jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, who was staying at the Arlo with his son. The two had just gone down to the hotel lobby for lunch when Mrs. Ponsetto, whom they did not know, accosted them.

The video shows tensions rising rapidly, with Ms Ponsetto insisting the teen has the phone and yelling at father and son, while Mr Harrold insists she is wrong.

“No,” she can be heard screaming. “I’m not letting her get away with my phone!”

The video also shows a man identifying himself as a hotel manager saying he is “trying to help” as he appears to confront the teen over the phone.

Separate footage captured by a hotel security camera shows Ms. Ponsetto accosting the teenager. The phone was later found and returned by an Uber driver.

Ms. Ponsetto, who fled the hotel, was arrested in California about 10 days later, but not before participating in a nationally televised interview that quickly turned from an opportunity to apologize to an exercise in excuse-making.

In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the hotel episode, Harrold said he was “shocked” by the events.

“I wonder what would happen if it was different, if it was a black woman and there was a 14-year-old white boy,” she added in the interview. He also condemned the way the hotel manager had confronted his son: “They assumed he was guilty.”

The hotel later released a statement apologizing to Mr. Harrold and his son, saying it was “deeply disheartened by the recent incident of baseless accusation, bias and assault against an innocent guest.”

The original charges in the case did not include hate crimes, but the district attorney’s office added two counts of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime last year. Ms. Ponsetto pleaded not guilty at the time.

On Monday, he pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime. If you adhere to the terms of the plea, you will be allowed to plead guilty to second-degree aggravated stalking in two years.

In his statement, Mr. D’Emilia said it was “Mrs. Ponsetto’s wish that Keyon Harrold accept her regrets and apologies for his behavior that night, and that all involved may move forward with greater insight and compassion.” .

Contacted Monday, Harrold said such an apology was inadequate for his son being “unfairly and aggressively attacked in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel” in an “unprovoked attack” and that it “minimizes the trauma Keyon , Jr. .keep feeling.”

“However,” he added, “we not only blame Ms. Ponsetto for the attack, but also the Arlo Hotel for allowing it to escalate and continue unabated.”

Mr. Harrold has sued Ms. Ponsetto; the hotel; the parent company, Quadrum Global; and the manager about the episode, which Mr. Harrold describes in court documents as “yet another example of African-Americans being harmed by unsubstantiated accusations as they go about their daily lives.”

Quadrum’s media department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jonah E. Bromwich contributed reporting.

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