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Miya Ponsetto Pleads Not Guilty to Federal Hate Crime After Falsely Accusing of Stealing Her Phone; Lawyer Wants Prosecutor to Focus on ‘Truly Violent Criminals’ Instead

A California woman later dubbed “SOHO Karen,” pleaded not guilty to felony hate crime charges stemming from an incident in which she wrongfully accused a Black teenager of stealing her cellphone while staying at a hotel.

Miya Ponsetto went viral on December 26, 2020, after she was caught on camera in the lobby of Arlo Soho, an upscale boutique hotel in New York City, yelling and tackling the 14-year-old son of jazz musician Keyon Harrold to the ground. The pair had been guests at the establishment. Ponsetto claimed that Keyon Harrold Jr. had stolen her iPhone and even tried to get the hotel manager, Chad Nathan, to assist her, only for the phone to be returned to her by an Uber driver shortly afterward. 

According to ABC 7 News, following her January 2021 arrest, the 23-year-old had been looking at charges including attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child, and two counts of attempted assault. However, on Wednesday, June 30, Ponsetto was indicted by a New York County grand jury on two counts of unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, aggravated harassment, and endangering the welfare of a child. Her lawyer, Paul D’Emilia, pleaded not guilty on his client’s behalf during a video arraignment in Manhattan Supreme Court. 

D’Emilia released a scathing statement in reaction to the charges. “Today marked another low point in out-going Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s checkered administration,” D’Emilia said. He later called the indictment “opportunistic,” stating that “the charges alleged are brazen and clear overreach of the intent of the state. In sum, they are absurd, and a perversion of our legal system.”

He added, “As truly violent criminals maraud and run rampant through New York City, this DA exhibits zero interest in law enforcement and prosecution. Instead, he turns his prosecutorial fury on a distraught and panicked young woman stranded without her lifeline, her phone, thousands of miles from home. Shameful.”

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Sarah Marquez requested the judge continue the “highest level of supervised release” for the young woman, citing that bail could not be attached to the case. Ponsetto’s next court date is scheduled for Oct. 20 in front of Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward. 

Ponsetto, who may appear in person at a later time pending the ongoing pandemic, was cautioned by Ward that “Although I did not set monetary bail if you are not in court on dates that I or other judges tell you to be — even though you did not post bail — you would face bail-jumping charges.” The young woman agreed to the conditions. 

However, the young woman’s legal issues don’t end there. According to NBC News, the Harrold family has enlisted civil rights attorney Ben Crump for their civil lawsuit against Ponsetto, as well as the Arlo hotel and its manager for violation of New York State’s human rights law, assault and other claims.

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