Woman who falsely accused Black teen of stealing her phone pleads guilty to hate crime

Plea deal spares Miya Ponsetto of prison after charges from 2020 incident in which she tackled 14-year-old at Manhattan hotel

A California woman who went viral in 2020 for wrongly accusing a Black teen of taking her phone at a New York City hotel has reached a plea deal to spare her prison if she avoids further trouble.

Miya Ponsetto, 23, pleaded guilty on Monday to unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, which is a felony, but will have a chance to re-plead to a misdemeanor aggravated harassment charge if she follows the terms of the agreement.

Ponsetto was ordered to complete a two-year probation stemming from a separate drunk driving and resisting arrest case, continue receiving counsel and have no further arrests. If she violates the agreement, she could face up to four years in prison, prosecutors said.

The charges stemmed from a December 2020 incident in which Ponsetto falsely accused Keyon Harrold Jr, a Black teenager and the son of the jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold, of stealing her phone at the Arlo Hotel in Manhattan.

Video of the incident, recorded by Harrold and from the hotel, showed Ponsetto forcefully grabbing at Harrold Jr, who was then 14 and was trying to move away. At one point Ponsetto tackles Harrold Jr, the two falling to the ground. Ponsetto’s phone was later found in an Uber and returned.

Ponsetto initially seemed apologetic towards the Harrold family but in a 2021 interview with CBS she suggested he did try to steal her phone after all.

“So, maybe it wasn’t him but at the same time, how is it so that as soon as I get asked to leave the premises after I had accused this person of stealing my phone, how is it that all of a sudden they just miraculously have my phone at the back?” Ponsetto said.

The teen’s family filed a lawsuit against Ponsetto and the hotel, alleging racial profiling. The case is pending.

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, said the plea deal “ensures appropriate accountability” by addressing the underlying causes for Ponsetto’s behavior and ensuring that it does not reoccur.

“Ms Ponsetto displayed outrageous behavior,” Bragg said in a statement. “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.”

Ponsetto’s lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, described the encounter as an “unfortunate misunderstanding” and said the misdemeanor harassment charge “more realistically reflects her actions that night at the Arlo Hotel”.

“It is 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.”


Gloria Oladipo in New York and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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