Family of Black teen accused of stealing cellphone files lawsuit

·3 min read

The parents of a Black teenager who was attacked at a New York City hotel after a woman falsely accused him of stealing her cellphone filed a lawsuit Wednesday over the incident.

The suit was filed in state court in Manhattan against Miya Ponsetto, the Arlo SoHo hotel and a hotel manager.

Keyon Harrold Jr., who was 14 at the time, was in the lobby of the Arlo SoHo in December with his father, the jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, when Ponsetto accused him of stealing her iPhone. Ponsetto had left the phone in an Uber vehicle, and it was eventually returned to her.

Cellphone video that Harrold Sr. posted on social media showed Ponsetto accosting the father and his son and yelling for them to "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.

Security camera video showed Ponsetto, 22, rushing at and tackling the teenager.

New York police said the teen's father "sustained scratches to his hand." No other injuries were reported.

Harrold Sr. suggested that racial bias played a role. His attorney, Benjamin Crump, said Wednesday that when a "woman who is presumed to be white accuses a Black person of a crime, normally everybody accepts the word of the white woman."

Crump, a prominent civil rights lawyer, is representing the Harrolds along with lawyer Paul Napoli.

"What the Arlo hotel did here is simple: They violated the human rights law of New York City ... that requires hotels and other places of accommodation to treat all of their guests, whether white or Black, the same. And the Arlo failed to do that," Napoli said.

Ponsetto, who lives in California, was charged with attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and two counts of attempted assault, NBC New York reported.

Sharon Ghatan, a lawyer who is representing Ponsetto in an unrelated case, said Ponsetto was in New York visiting her father when she lost her phone.

"Things took a life of their own," Ghatan has said previously, denying that the incident was a "race-related issue."

"Miya is young. She let her emotions get the best of her. That phone could have been in the hand of a 90-year-old grandma, an Asian person ... someone Black or blue," she said.

Ghatan said Ponsetto, who has family roots in Puerto Rico, was in an "emotional, anxious state" and "made a mistake."

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

Ponsetto tried to defend her actions in a wild interview in January with CBS "This Morning" host Gayle King.

"The footage shows me attacking his son — attacking him how?" Ponsetto asks. "Yelling at him. OK, I apologize. Can we move on? Basically, I'm a 22-year-old girl. I am, I don't — racism — how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime?"

When King pressed Ponsetto, Ponsetto abruptly cut her off, telling her, "All right, Gayle, enough."

Paul D'Emilia, who is representing Ponsetto in the New York case, and the hotel did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday about the lawsuit.

At the time of the incident, the Arlo apologized for what it called a "baseless accusation, prejudice and assault against an innocent guest" and said the company was "committed to making sure this never happens again at any of our hotels."

Ponsetto's next hearing is scheduled for Monday.

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