A California woman who assaulted a black teen at a SoHo hotel after falsely accusing him of stealing her cell phone pleaded guilty Monday to hate crime charges resulting from the altercation. Parts of it are captured in a widely viewed video.
Under the terms of her plea, the woman, Miya Ponsetto, 23, could avoid jail time and can file a new plea for a lower, felony charge without an element of hate crime if she completes her probation in a California drink-driving case. She must also continue counseling and have no meetings 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 black people routinely face in New York and elsewhere. It came several months after a white woman called 911 to falsely claim that a black birdwatcher in Central Park was threatening her life.
In a statement announcing Ms. Ponsetto’s plea, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg emphasized what he believes was her “outrageous conduct” in tackling 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 faced racial profiling countless times in my life and I sympathize with the young man who was the victim of this incident,” Bragg said in the statement. “This plea provides appropriate accountability to Ms. Ponsetto by addressing the root causes of her behavior and ensuring that this behavior does not recur.”
Ms Ponsetto’s lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, said in a statement that he and his client “were pleased that today’s proceedings have brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final solution.”
“We appreciate the prosecutor’s thoughtful and empathetic approach to arriving at an acceptable conclusion,” Mr D’Emilia added in the statement, “particularly in light of the unreasonable pressure exerted by many voices who are not be familiar with the more detailed details of what happened that night.”
The “lots of votes” comment was a clear reference to the angry public outcry the episode sparked when its videotaped parts started bouncing on social media shortly after the altercation took place on December 26, 2020.
The video was recorded by jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, who was staying in the Arlo with his son at the time. The two had just come to the hotel lobby for brunch when Mrs. Ponsetto, whom they did not know, approached them.
The video shows tensions quickly escalating, with Ms. Ponsetto insisting the teen have the phone and yelling at father and son, while Mr. Harrold insists she’s wrong.
‘No’, you hear them yell. “I won’t let him run away with my phone!”
The video also shows a man identifying himself as a hotel manager and saying that he is “trying to help” as he appears to confront the teen on the phone.
Separate images captured by a hotel security camera show Ms. Ponsetto tackling the teen. The phone was later found and returned by an Uber driver.
Ms. Ponsetto, who had 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 apology exercise. for her actions.
In an interview with DailyExpertNews shortly after the hotel episode, Mr. Harrold that events had left him “shocked.”
“I wonder what would happen if it was different, if it was a black woman and there was a white 14-year-old,” he added in the interview. He also condemned the way the hotel manager had addressed his son. “They assumed he was guilty.”
The hotel subsequently issued a statement apologizing to Mr Harrold and his son, saying it was “deeply discouraged at the recent incident of unfounded accusations, prejudice and attacks on an innocent guest.”
The original charges in the case did not include hate crimes, but the prosecutor’s office last year added two counts of unlawful second-degree imprisonment as a hate crime, one count of second-degree aggravated harassment and one count of endangering the well-being of a child. Mrs. Ponsetto at the time pleaded not guilty.
On Monday, she pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime. If she sticks to the terms of the plea, she can plead guilty to serious second-degree harassment within two years.
In his statement, Mr. D’Emilia said it is “Mrs. Ponsetto’s wish that Keyon Harrold accept her regrets and apologies for her behavior that evening, and that all concerned may move forward with greater insight and compassion.”
Mr Harrold was not immediately available for comment Monday. He has sued Ms. Ponsetto, the hotel, the manager and several other entities over the episode, which he described in court documents as “yet another example of African Americans being harmed by baseless accusations while going about their daily lives.”
Jonah E. Bromwich reported.