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A California woman who attacked a Black teenager at a luxury New York hotel in 2020 after falsely accusing him of stealing her cell phone has pleaded guilty to a felony hate crime.
Miya Ponsetto, 23, pleaded guilty to unlawful imprisonment in the second degree as a hate crime in the December 2020 incident, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced on Monday.
“Ms. Ponsetto displayed outrageous behavior,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin 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."
"This plea ensures appropriate accountability for Ms. Ponsetto by addressing underlying causes for her behavior and ensuring this conduct does not reoccur,” he added.
Ponsetto, who can avoid jail time under the terms of her deal with prosecutors, is required to fulfill a two-year probationary sentence in her home state of California on unrelated charges. A judge ordered her to continue counseling and prohibited her from breaking the law again as part of the arrangement.
“We are pleased that today’s proceeding brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final resolution,” Ponsetto’s attorney Paul D’Emilia told Oxygen.com in a statement on Tuesday morning. “Miya Ponsetto has been leading an exemplary life since this incident with the young man close to a year and a half ago.”
D’Emilia had previously confirmed Ponsetto was undergoing anger management therapy.
“We are appreciative of the District Attorney’s thoughtful and empathetic approach to finding an acceptable conclusion — 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,” D’Emilia added.
If Ponsetto complies with her probationary sentence, she can re-plead to second-degree misdemeanor aggravated harassment, prosecutors said. However, if she violates her probation terms, she could face between one and four years in a state prison.
“Ms. Ponsetto looks forward to her eventual final plea to the harassment charge — a plea that we feel 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.”
Ponsetto originally pleaded not guilty to the hate crime charge, as well as aggravated harassment and child welfare endangerment charges in June 2021.
Ponsetto was dubbed ‘SoHo Karen’ and was arrested for tackling 14-year-old Keyon Harrold Jr. and harassing his family in the lobby of Manhattan’s Arlo Hotel in December 2020. The California woman, who’d misplaced her phone in an Uber, randomly and wrongly blamed the Black teen for its loss after encountering him in the lobby of the boutique hotel.
The racially-charged incident drew nationwide ire after video of the incident, filmed by the boy’s father, Keyon Harrold Sr., was widely circulated on social media. Surveillance video of the incident also showed Ponsetto chasing the teenager and wrestling him to the floor in the hotel’s lobby.
“You have my phone!” Ponsetto shouted at Harrold Jr., according to the case’s criminal complaint, obtained by Oxygen.com. “Give me my phone! Show me your phone!”
The incident unfolded months after protests engulfed the country following George Floyd’s police killing.
Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the Harrold family, blasted prosecutors’ plea deal with Ponsetto as unacceptable.
“When Miya Ponsetto couldn’t find her cell phone, she defaulted to blaming and assaulting an innocent Black teenager and was aided by the Arlo Hotel staff, who backed her up instead of defending their Black guest,” Crump said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Tuesday morning. “It’s highly disappointing that she was permitted to plea down, only receiving probation. We won’t change the culture until we hold people accountable for their outrageously bad behavior.”
Ponsetto was arrested by police in California on Jan. 7, 2021. Sharen Ghatan, her attorney at the time, deflected any insinuation Ponsetto was racist in an interview with Oxygen.com, attributing the attack — which she described as a “panic attack” — to her client’s anxiety issues.
Ponsetto, who is Puerto Rican, also personally denied she was racist during a televised interview with Gayle King.
“I was approaching the people that had been exiting the hotel because in my mind anybody exiting...might be the one that’s trying to steal my phone,” Ponsetto told King. “I admit, yes, I could have approached the situation differently and not yelled at him like that and made him feel some sort of inferior way, and making him feel as if I was like hurting his feelings because that’s not my intention.”
Keyon Harrold Sr., the teen’s father, who’s a Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter, wasn’t immediately available for comment regarding Ponsetto’s plea deal when contacted by Oxygen.com on Tuesday.
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