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As ‘Soho Karen’ Pleads Not Guilty to Felony Hate Crimes, Her Attorney Tells Prosecutors to Target ‘Truly Violent Criminals’



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A woman sometimes referred to as the “SoHo Karen” pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to several charges — two of which include a felony hate crime enhancement — after she falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her iPhone and then tackled him at a Manhattan hotel. Miya Ponsetto, 23, was arrested for the incident back in January but was not charged with a hate crime at the time. The new enhancement is being applied to two counts of unlawful imprisonment.

Ponsetto is the woman seen on video accusing a Black 14-year-old boy of stealing her iPhone at the SoHo location of Arlo Hotels on December 26, 2020. She tried to have a manager help get it.

“That’s mine,” she pointed, asking him to “get it back.”

As seen on the video, the teen’s father, Jazz musician Keyon Harrold Sr., stood up for his son.

“Are you kidding me?” he said. “Do you feel like there’s only one iPhone in the world?”

Ponsetto continued to demand the phone. Harrold accused the manager of taking Ponsetto’s side, and the manager, later identified in a lawsuit as Chad Nathan, said he was trying to help.

“No, but you’re not helping,” Harrold said. “What you’re being is disrespectful.”

Ponsetto ended up rushing the boy. Surveillance footage showed her tackling him to the ground.

It turned out, Harrold said, that an Uber driver returned the missing phone.

Ponsetto was arrested in January for attempted assault, attempted robbery, grand larceny, and acting in a manner injurious to a child. At Wednesday’s hearing, she pleaded not guilty to an indictment alleging two counts of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree (both of which contain a hate crime enhancement), aggravated harassment in the second degree, and endangering the welfare of a child.

After court, Ponsetto’s lawyer was less than kind to the prosecutor’s office.

“Today marked another low point in out-going Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s checkered administration,” attorney Paul D’Emilia said in a statement to Law&Crime. “Instead of helping to foster a civil and enlightened resolution to an unfortunate incident between two young people, DA Vance chose a craven and opportunistic path in indicting, with felony hate crime charges, Ms. Miya Ponsetto. The charges alleged are a brazen and clear overreach of the intent of the statute. In sum, they are absurd, and a perversion of our legal system. 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.”

This in part echoes some of what Ponsetto said in a memorable back-and-forth with CBS This Morning’s Gayle King. A California resident who had been visiting New York, Ponsetto rhetorically asked her interviewer how she would feel if she lost the one thing that contained all the information she needed to get back home.

Ponsetto downplayed her outburst during the interview. She said she believed the teen had her phone because he was exiting the hotel. Ponsetto later learned it was actually the hotel which had her phone.

She acknowledged that she could have approached the incident differently and “maybe not yelled at him like that and made him feel maybe some sort of inferior way.” She issued a general apology, said she considered herself to be “super sweet,” and described herself as a “22-year-old girl” — but she became increasingly heated as King pressed her on the specifics of what happened in the surveillance video.

“All right, Gayle, enough,” Ponsetto said — while holding her hand up in a gesture widely interpreted as a visual attempt to stop King’s line of thought.

Harrold and the teen’s mother, Kat Rodriguez, said Ponsetto’s apology was insincere.

“I feel like her apology was as genuine as when she shushed you,” Harrold Sr. told King in a follow-up interview. “I have an issue with the idea of entitlement versus character. It’s all been tragically consistent. I’ll just say that.”

The teen’s family sued Ponsetto, the hotel, and Nathan in May. The hotel did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.  The case is slowly proceeding through the system.

[image via screengrab from Keyon Harrold’s Instagram video dated December 26, 2020]

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