Miya Ponsetto was suffering a “panic attack” when she assaulted a Black teenager and accused him of stealing her iPhone at an upscale Manhattan hotel in late December, her lawyer said.
The 22-year-old, who’s been dubbed “SoHo Karen” after videos of her tackling 14-year-old Keyon Harrold Jr. went viral, acted out of “anxiety” and not racial bias, according to her attorney, Sharen Ghatan.
On Dec. 26, Ponsetto allegedly confronted Harrold in the lobby of SoHo’s Arlo Hotel and erroneously accused him of stealing her iPhone. She then chased the teen through the entrance and wrestled him to the ground, surveillance footage shows.
Ponsetto has a history of anxiety attacks and acting in anger, Ghatan said.
“She has some issues,” Ghatan told Oxygen.com. “In that very moment, I think she had some sort of anxiety or panic attack. I’m not a doctor, I’m just letting you know it’s happened to her before.”
Ponsetto, who was visiting her father in New York at the time of the encounter, is from the Los Angeles area. Ghatan said Ponsetto was in a “fragile” place when she confronted Harrold.
“She doesn’t know the city, she doesn’t know the area,” Ghatan said. “Her phone is a point of contact for everything, as far as phone numbers, information, photos, calendar — everything — it’s all on the phone. She loses the phone and she loses her mind.”
Ghatan described Ponsetto’s actions as “very out of character.” The California lawyer, however, was adamant the incident was not racially motivated, noting that her client is Puerto Rican.
“She made a huge mistake — but a bigger mistake would be to make this about race,” Ghatan added. “That’s not who she is. That’s not what she’s about…She never described [Harrold] as a young man, a teenager, Black, white, blue — she just saw her phone in someone else’s hand.”
The phone the boy was holding did not belong to her. Ponsetto’s phone was later recovered by an Uber driver, as she had accidentally misplaced it.
Ponsetto, who has returned to California, is wanted for questioning by New York City police. City detectives have been dispatched to Los Angeles to locate the young woman, police officials confirmed. Manhattan prosecutors are also eying possible charges against her.
“Our office is thoroughly investigating this incident," Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, told Oxygen.com on Wednesday.
Ponsetto’s lawyer, however, said as of Wednesday morning that investigators haven’t contacted her.
“They know how to get in touch with me,” Ghatan said. “If they need anything or want to talk with anyone, that would be, I’m happy to help. No one has called.”
In February, Ponsetto and her mother, Nicole Ponsetto, were arrested for public intoxication after they refused to leave the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills, her lawyer confirmed. Nicole Ponsetto, 41, was also charged with assaulting a police officer in the incident. The case is pending, and the mother and daughter haven’t yet entered a plea to the charges. Both have a pre-trial court appearance scheduled later this month, Ghatan said.
“We are demanding that she is arrested and extradited back to New York,” Crump told Oxygen.com.
A petition Crump drafted demanding Ponsetto’s arrest has racked up more than 100,000 signatures.
“If the roles had been reversed, and Keyon Harrold Sr. would have assaulted, battered, and falsely accused a young white teenager, he would have been arrested, and held to the full extent of the law,” Crump said. “The fact that [Ponsetto] is now a fugitive from justice suggests that this implicit bias allowed her to escape in the first place.”
“When a white person does a criminal act, we try to explain it in a way, they have mental issues,” Crump said. “This is historic.”
Meanwhile, Harrold is still reeling from the encounter, his family said. They’re now seeking out therapy for the teen.
“He’s traumatized,” his father, Keyon Harrold Sr., told Oxygen.com.
Harrold’s family had been staying at Arlo SoHo Hotel for several days prior to the incident. The elder Harrold, a Grammy-winning jazz musician, claimed Ponsetto wasn’t even a guest at the hotel at the time of the incident. He described the alleged attack as “repulsive” and “violent.” The 40-year-old also said that he was attacked by Ponsetto.
“When she saw my son, she was like a shark,” Harrold Sr. recalled. “She looked at my son and she would not let up.”
The family is convinced racial bias fueled Ponsetto’s frantic tirade.
“Most people don’t understand what racism looks like — you don’t have to call somebody the n-word for something to be racist,” he said. “They didn’t believe in me as a paying customer. How I was treated — nobody should be treated that way. If I was a white person, that would have never happened.”
For years, the father said he’s tried to protect his son from the “reality of racial violence.” On Dec. 26, however, he said that all came crashing down.
“We were just trying to get lunch — now I’m trying to rebuild his identity as a young Black man,” he said.
The Harrold family has accused Arlo Hotel’s staff of “empowering” Ponsetto, and for initially siding with her, instead of condemning the young woman.
“That attack was empowered by the manager,” Harrold Sr. added.
Arlo Hotel didn’t immediately respond for comment on Wednesday. However, the hotel chain acknowledged previously that “more could have been done” to de-escalate the dispute.
“We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo Hotel,” the company said in a statement. “No Arlo guest — or any person — should be subject to this kind of behavior. We want to apologize to Mr. Harrold and his son for this inexcusable experience.”
The hotel’s reponse steered away from directly acknowledging any possible racial bias.
Ponsetto hasn’t privately apologized to the Harrold family. Her legal team indicated she’s open to a dialogue, but said they’ve been unable to reach Crump or the Harrold family. But that may not be sufficient.
“At this point, it’s not about an apology — it’s about change,” Harrold said. “It’s about how a system… This is way bigger than just Mia. What she did is horrible but it shouldn’t have happened."
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