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‘SoHo Karen’ Sued for False Imprisonment, ‘Violent Incident of Racial Profiling’ Against Jazz Musician’s Teen Son


Miya Ponsetto is seen in a screengrab from Keyon Harrold’s Instagram video on December 26, 2020.

Miya Ponsetto, the woman who falsely accused a Black teen of stealing her cell phone in a New York City hotel the day after last Christmas, was sued civilly Wednesday morning by the teen and his parents.

Video of Ponsetto’s December 26, 2020 altercation went viral when the teen’s father, Keyon Harrold, posted it on Instagram.

The named plaintiffs in the case, filed in New York State Supreme Court for the County of New York, are Keyon Harrold, Jr., and his parents Keyon Harrold and Katty Rodriguez.  The defendants are Arlo Soho, LLC; Quadrum Hospitality Group, LLC; 2REN, LLC; Chad Nathan, and Ponsetto. The various corporate defendants are said to have “owned, maintained, controlled, and secured the premises” where the incident occurred and “undertook to provide security at the business known as the Arlo Soho Hotel . . . to protect individuals thereupon.” Defendant Nathan was a manager at the hotel, the court documents state.

The case is styled as Harrold v. Arlo Soho LLC.

The lawsuit’s opening salvo noted that Harrold the father “is an African American man, a Grammy award winning jazz musician, and a loving father to his fifteen year old son.”

“[T]he Plaintiffs bring this action to seek redress for a violent incident of racial profiling that took place in the lobby of the Arlo Soho Hotel,” the opening paragraph continues. “The episode was yet another instance of African Americans being harmed by baseless accusations while going about their daily life. In this case racial profiling spiraled into a violent and frightening assault against an innocent African American child.”

The document alleges that Ponsetto and Nathan “immediately focused their attention on” Harrold and his son “and disregarded all of the other non-African American individuals in the lobby” when Ponsetto believed her phone had been taken.

“Immediately upon seeing the Plaintiffs, who are African American, Defendant MIYA PONSETTO ran over to them, and aggressively and violently confronted them,” the document continues. “Defendant MIYA PONSETTO wrongfully accused KEYON HARROLD JR. of stealing her cell phone based on racial profiling.

“Defendant CHAD NATHAN, the director of operations at the Arlo Soho Hotel, assisted Defendant MIYA PONSETTO in her wrongful accusations based on racial profiling and stereotypes,” the lawsuit goes on to say. “Defendant CHAD NATHAN detained the Plaintiffs and demanded that KEYON HARROLD, JR. surrender his cellphone. While the Plaintiffs were detained and being accosted by Defendants MIYA PONSETTO and CHAD NATHAN, PONSETTO lunged at Plaintiffs and grabbed at them, scratching KEYON HARROLD’s hand, and knocking his phone out of his hand.”

As the plaintiffs tried to “disengage from the confrontation instigated by” Ponsetto and Nathan, the lawsuit says Ponsetto “chased” Harrold, Jr. “down the lobby,” “tackled” the teen by “dropping him to the ground,” and then “began to grab at his pants and rummage through his pockets in an attempt to steal his phone.”

The father called the police.

The lawsuit alleges violations of both the New York City and the New York State Human Rights Laws. It also alleges assault; battery; intentional infliction of emotional distress; false imprisonment; negligent hiring, retention, and supervision; negligence; and loss of service.

Court papers say Harrold, Jr. suffered “physical and emotional pain and suffering, great mental distress, shock, fright, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress, feelings of racial stigmatization, an increased sense of vulnerability, and unlawful deprivation of their protected rights to exercise and enjoy equal treatment.” His parents say they have “become obligated to expend diverse sums of money for the care and treatment of their son in an effort to alleviate and/or cure some the ills, injuries, suffering and disabilities sustained, and they will hereinafter necessarily incur further expenses for an indefinite period of time into the future.”

The lawsuit seeks money damages, attorney’s fees, and costs but does not name a dollar amount.

New York Black Teen Cell Phone Incident, SoHo Karen

Miya Ponsetto is seen in a booking photo provided by the Ventura County, Calif. Sheriff’s Department.

The New York State Supreme Court system is made up of trial, not appellate courts; it functions the way a superior court system functions in many other states.

Attorney Ben Crump is among the plaintiffs’ lawyers. Craig Phemister, Esq. is serving as lead local counsel.

The New York Police Department previously tweeted surveillance video of the incident in an attempt to locate Ponsetto.

After the incident, Ponsetto infamously shushed CBS interviewer Gayle King while being questioned about the incident.

Ponsetto told King she assumed Harrold, Jr. was “probably the one . . . might be the one that is trying to steal” her phone.

“I admit, yes, I could have approached the situation differently or maybe not yelled at him like that and made him feel, you know, maybe — some sort of — uh — inferior way, making him feel as if I was like hurting his feelings, because that’s not my intention,” Ponsetto continued. “I — I consider myself to be super sweet. I really never, ever meant for it to, like, hurt him or his father, either.”

Ponsetto revealed in the interview that Harrold, Jr. did not have Ponsetto’s phone. The hotel had the phone, and it returned the device to Ponsetto.

Ponsetto was arrested in California on criminal charges related to the incident. The New York Times reported January 1, 2021 that Ponsetto is charged with third-degree attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child, and two counts of attempted assault. Court records in that case indicate she’s due back in court March 29, 2021.

[Booking Photo via the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.