A white woman who wrongly accused a Black teen of stealing her phone has accepted a plea deal to avoid going to jail. The terms of the plea required her to admit to committing a hate crime against the then-14-year-old but can be revisited in a couple of years, provided she stays out of trouble.
On Monday, April 11, Miya Ponsetto pled guilty to an “unlawful imprisonment in the second degree as a hate crime,” a class E felony charge for the Dec. 26, 2020, altercation involving a minor, Keyon Harrold Jr.
The Black teen was staying at the swanky Arlo Soho hotel in New York City with his father, a professional jazz musician, during the holiday season when he encountered the California native.
The then-22-year-old believed, without any evidence, the high school student stole her iPhone.
As a result, she physically detained him by tackling him to the ground in the hotel’s lobby and verbally assaulted him. The boy’s father, Keyon Harrold Sr., recorded the incident on his phone and can be heard on the video repeatedly trying to convince the woman that his son did not take her property.
Additional footage from a security video, providing a different angle of the assault, was released by the New York Police Department. In the video, the teen is seen trying to escape her clutch, but instead falls when she tackles him to the ground.
The missing phone was actually located in an Uber and returned to the woman dubbed by social media as “SOHO Karen.”
At first, Ponsetto seemed to show regret for accusing the boy of stealing. She later gave mixed messages while apologizing during an interview with Gayle King on “CBS This Morning,” expressing disbelief that an Uber she was in “miraculously” had it. Her attorney told the journalist her client went off-script.
She said, “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 when I come back?”
To the host, she also claimed she and Harrold Jr. were close in age, despite her being almost a decade older when asked to consider how traumatized the minor might have been.
“He’s 14? That’s what they’re claiming? Yeah, I’m 22, I’ve lived probably just the same amount of life, like honestly. I’m just a kid at heart as he is,” she said before insulting King’s interviewing skills by saying she wanted a “real interview with real questions.”
Hours after she was interviewed, the young woman was arrested in Ventura County, California, for the incident. The original charges were attempted robbery and grand larceny for trying to take his iPhone, acting in a manner injurious to a child because of the boy’s age and two counts of attempted assault for grabbing and knocking him down.
The deal took those charges off the table.
The terms of the deal she was offered and accepted required her to stay out of trouble for two years, under the probation terms of a different case in California. It was mandated she attends counseling sessions and avoids “further interaction with the criminal justice system.”
Should she abide by these terms, she will be allowed to replead her charge —go back to the courts and file a new plea based on this agreement that would reduce the count to aggravated harassment in the second degree, a class A misdemeanor. The first charge will be removed from her record. If for some reason, “she doesn’t comply she faces up to 1 1/3 to 4 years” in a New York state prison.
Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg gave a statement about the woman’s behavior, calling it “outrageous.”
“As a Black man,” he remarked. “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.”
Her attorney from Paul D’Emilia’s law firm announced the deal in March on Twitter.
“Miya Ponsetto has struck a plea deal that would allow her to dodge jail time, it was revealed Monday. Paul D’Emilia indicated his client wanted to proceed with the deal — but she’ll have to fly back to NY to actually enter the plea in person.”
Harrold Jr.’s attorney Ben Crump believes the deal is an example of a discriminatory system that is broken, taking to Twitter to call the plea offer “highly disappointing.”
“We won’t change the culture until we hold people accountable for their outrageously bad behavior,” the civil rights lawyer wrote on social media.
D’Emilia disagrees, believing the DA showed her client grace.
“We are pleased that today’s proceeding brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final resolution,” the lawyer said in a statement.
Ponsetto now works as a receptionist in Southern California and is said to be “leading an exemplary life since this incident with the young man close to a year and a half ago.”
The Harrold family will have their day in court with the young woman.
They filed a civil lawsuit with the Supreme Court of New York last March listing Ponsetto, Arlo Soho hotel, its owner company Quadrum Hospitality Group, hotel manager Chad Nathan and others as defendants, claiming racial profiling, violation of New York City Human Rights Law, and New York State Human Rights Law. The suit also accuses her of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, negligence and loss of service.