Woman Pleads Guilty to Tackling Black Teen at SoHo Hotel
A California woman who tackled a Black teenager at a SoHo hotel after falsely accusing him of stealing her cellphone pleaded guilty on Monday to a felony hate crime charge stemming from the altercation. Parts of it were captured in a widely seen video.
Under the terms of her plea, the woman, Miya Ponsetto, 23, avoided jail time and can enter a new plea to a lesser, misdemeanor charge without a hate crime element if she completes her probation in a case of driving while intoxicated in California. She must also continue counseling and have no encounters 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 Black people routinely confront in New York and elsewhere. It came several months after a white woman called 911 to falsely claim that a Black bird-watcher in Central Park was threatening her life.
In a statement announcing Ms. Ponsetto’s plea, Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, highlighted what he said was her “outrageous behavior” 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 personally experienced racial profiling countless times in my life, and I sympathize with the young man victimized in this incident,” Mr. Bragg said in the statement. “This plea ensures appropriate accountability for Ms. Ponsetto by addressing underlying causes for her behavior and ensuring this conduct does not reoccur.”
Ms. Ponsetto’s lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, said in a statement he and his client “were pleased that today’s proceeding brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final resolution.”
“We are appreciative of the district attorney’s thoughtful and empathetic approach to finding an acceptable conclusion,” Mr. D’Emilia added in the statement, “especially in light of the unreasonable pressure brought to bear by many voices not familiar with the more granular details of what occurred that evening.”
The “many voices” comment was an apparent reference to the angry public outcry the episode touched off when the video capturing parts of it began to ricochet across social media shortly after the altercation occurred on Dec. 26, 2020.
The video was filmed by the jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, who was staying at the Arlo with his son at the time. The two had just come down to the hotel’s lobby for brunch when Ms. Ponsetto, whom they did not know, accosted them.
The video shows tensions escalating quickly, with Ms. Ponsetto insisting that the teenager has the phone and yelling at father and son, and Mr. Harrold insisting that she is in the wrong.
“No,” she can be heard yelling. “I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!”
The video also shows a man who identifies himself as a hotel manager saying he is “trying to help” while appearing to confront the teenager about the phone.
Separate footage captured by a hotel security camera shows Ms. Ponsetto tackling the teenager. The phone was later found and returned by an Uber driver.
Ms. Ponsetto, who fled from 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 into an exercise in making excuses for her actions.
In an interview with The New York Times shortly after the hotel episode, Mr. Harrold said the events had left him “shellshocked.”
“I wonder what would happen if it were different, if it were 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 confronted his son. “They assumed he was guilty.”
The hotel subsequently issued a statement in which it apologized to Mr. Harrold and his son, saying it was “deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice 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, one count of second-degree aggravated harassment and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Ms. Ponsetto pleaded not guilty at the time.
On Monday, she pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime. If she adheres to the plea’s terms, she will be allowed to plead guilty to second-degree aggravated harassment in two years.
In his statement, Mr. D’Emilia said that it was “Ms. Ponsetto’s wish that Keyon Harrold accepts her regrets and apology for her behavior that evening, and that all involved can move forward with added insight and compassion.”
Mr. Harrold could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. He has sued Ms. Ponsetto, the hotel, the manager and several other entities over the episode, which he described in court papers as “yet another instance of African Americans being harmed by baseless accusations while going about their daily life.”
Jonah E. Bromwich contributed reporting.