The parents of a Black teenager who was attacked at a New York City hotel after a woman falsely accused him of stealing her cellphone filed a lawsuit Wednesday over the incident.
The suit is against Miya Ponsetto, the Arlo SoHo hotel and a hotel manager.
Keyon Harrold Jr., who was 14 at the time, was in the lobby of the Arlo SoHo in December with his father, jazz musician Keyon Harrold, when Ponsetto accused him of stealing her iPhone. Ponsetto had left the phone in an Uber, and it was eventually returned to her.
Cellphone video that Harrold Sr. posted on social media showed Ponsetto accosting the father and son and yelling for them to “show me my phone.” A man in the video who identified himself as the hotel manager can also be heard asking to see Harrold Jr.’s phone.
Security camera video showed Ponsetto, 22, rushing at and tackling the teenager.
The New York City Police Department said that the teen’s father “sustained scratches to his hand” during the attack. No other injuries were reported.
Harrold Sr. suggested that racial bias played a role in the incident. Attorney Ben Crump said Wednesday that when a “woman who is presumed to be white accuses a Black person of a crime, normally everybody accepts the word of the white woman.”
Crump is representing the Harrolds along with attorney Paul Napoli.
“What the Arlo Hotel did here is simple: They violated the human rights law of New York City … that requires hotels and other places of accommodation to treat all of their guests, whether white or Black, the same. And the Arlo failed to do that,” Napoli said.
Ponsetto, who lives in California, was charged with attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child, and two counts of attempted assault, according to NBC New York.
Attorney Sharon Ghatan, who is representing Ponsetto in an unrelated case, said her client was in New York City visiting her father when she lost her phone.
“Things took a life of their own,” Ghatan previously said, denying that the incident was a “race-related issue.”
“Miya is young, she let her emotions get the best of her. That phone could have been in the hand of a 90-year-old grandma, an Asian person… someone Black or blue,” she said.
Ghatan said that her client, who has family roots in Puerto Rico, was in an “emotional, anxious state” and “made a mistake” when she falsely accused the teenager of theft.
“She lost her mind for a hot minute. She is sorry,” Ghatan said. “Sadly these poor Harrolds had to deal with the aftermath.”
Ponsetto attempted to defend her actions in a wild interview in January with CBS “This Morning” host Gayle King.
“The footage shows me attacking his son, attacking him how?” Ponsetto asks. “Yelling at him, O.K., I apologize. Can we move on? Basically, I’m a 22-year-old girl. I am, I don’t — racism — how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime?”
When King pressed Ponsetto about the incident, Ponsetto abruptly cut King off, telling her, “Alright, Gayle, enough.”
Paul D’Emilia, who is representing Ponsetto in the New York case, and the Arlo Soho hotel did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday about the lawsuit.
At the time of the incident, the Arlo apologized for what it called a “baseless accusation, prejudice and assault against an innocent guest,” and said the company was “committed to making sure this never happens again at any of our hotels.”
Ponsetto’s next hearing is scheduled for March 29.