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Attorney of woman who falsely accused Black teen of phone theft speaks out

Wilson Wong and Diana Dasrath
·4 min read
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The attorney of the woman who tackled and falsely accused the 14-year-old son of jazz musician Keyon Harrold of stealing her iPhone that she left in an Uber said Tuesday that the incident “wasn’t a race-related issue.”

In a phone call, attorney Sharon Ghatan, who is representing 22-year-old Miya Ponsetto in an unrelated case, confirmed her client was the woman who lunged at and tackled Keyon Harrold Jr. in the lobby at the Arlo SoHo, an upscale boutique hotel in New York City. Harrold, who is Black, has suggested that racial bias played a role in the Dec. 26 incident.

“Things took a life of their own,” Ghatan said. “Miya is young, she let her emotions get the best of her. That phone could have been in hand of 90-year-old grandma, an Asian person... someone Black or blue."

Ghatan said Ponsetto, who lives with her single mother in California, was in the city visiting her father when she lost her phone. She did not know anyone in the city and was in an “emotional, anxious state" and "made a mistake” when she falsely accused Harrold’s son of theft, according to Ghatan.

The attorney said that had the Uber driver returned her phone 15 minutes earlier, the altercation would not have happened.

Ponsetto, who Ghatan said has family roots in Puerto Rico, was in a “very fragile” state, according to Ghatan.

“She lost her mind for a hot minute. She is sorry," Ghatan said. "Sadly these poor Harrolds had to deal with the aftermath.”

Ghatan added that her client wanted to “move forward and put this behind her.” She nor her client have been contacted by law enforcement officials or civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represents the Harrold family, Ghatan said.

Ponsetto was charged with public intoxication and battery for a Beverly Hills hotel incident on Feb. 28, according to court documents. She was also arrested on May 28 for driving under the influence in Van Nuys, California, court documents show.

A hearing for the charges related to the Beverly Hills incident was scheduled for later this month, Ghatan said. In September, a judge at the Van Nuys Courthouse West sentenced Ponsetto to 3 years of summary probation after she pleaded no contest for driving under the influence.

Ponsetto was thrown into the national spotlight when Harrold posted a minute-long video of the altercation on Instagram late last year — sparking outrage from social media users who accused Ponsetto of racially discriminating against Harrold and his son.

Ponsetto can be heard accosting Harrold and his son, yelling, “Show me my phone!” A man in the video who identified himself as the hotel manager can also be heard asking to see Harrold Jr.’s phone.

Before the video cuts out, Ponsetto can be seen approaching Harrold, prompting the jazz musician to shout: “Get your hands off!”

A 10-second video from the hotel’s security footage captured Ponsetto rushing at and encircling her arms around Harrold’s son.

Police in New York City said Harrold “sustained scratches to his hand.” No other injuries were reported.

More than 100,000 people signed an online petition posted by Crump, who called for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to bring assault and battery charges against Ponsetto.

“Keyon Harrold Jr. will live with this trauma for life, the weight of racism on the shoulders of another generation,” Crump wrote in a statement. “He deserves better than this treatment!”

A spokesperson for the Manhattan DA told NBC News last Monday that the office was "thoroughly investigating this incident."

At a press conference last Wednesday, Harrold, accompanied by Crump and Rev. Al Sharpton, spoke publicly about the incident.

“I can’t even come downstairs in New York City — prime New York City — and just go brunch without being attacked and wrongfully accused of something,” Harrold said. “The idea of trauma goes above any charge that could ever be had.”

“I want my son to grow up whole,” Harrold said.

In an interview with “Good Morning America” last Tuesday, Harrold Jr. said he was “confused” and “shell-shocked” over the incident. "I would ask her why would she do something like this to a kid who has never met you at all and I would just ask just why," he said.