A Woman Falsely Accused a Black Teenager of Stealing Her Phone

An unidentified woman falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone.
An unidentified woman falsely accused a Black teenager of stealing her phone. Photo: @keyonharrold/Instagram

On December 26, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Keyon Harrold and his 14-year-old son were on their way to brunch at the Arlo, a boutique hotel in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, when they were intercepted by an agitated woman in the lobby. The confrontation, which Harrold recorded on his phone and later shared across social media platforms, was ugly. In the video, the woman accosts Harrold and Keyon Harrold Jr., who are both Black, accusing the latter of stealing her iPhone. She then furiously demands that the hotel manager help her — and to Harrold’s further disbelief, the manager complies, asking Harrold Jr. to hand over his phone. The video cuts out as Harrold and his son attempt to leave the scene, after which the woman tackled the teen, as captured by surveillance footage. The hotel later informed Harrold that the woman found her phone soon after the confrontation.

Since Harrold shared the footage, it has gone viral, drawing comparisons to the notorious confrontation between Amy Cooper and a Black birder in Central Park this past summer. The video has also sparked two separate investigations: one by the New York Police Department and another by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. According to the New York Post, NYPD sources have identified the woman — who has been dubbed “Soho Karen” — as the 22-year-old Miya Ponsetto. Here’s what we know so far.

A woman accosted jazz musician Keyon Harrold and his son at a boutique hotel in Manhattan, falsely accusing the teenager of stealing her phone.

By the time Harrold started recording his encounter with the woman at the Arlo, where he had been staying as a guest since mid-December, the situation was already tense. In the video, the woman screeches at Harrold Jr. to “take the case off, that’s mine,” before demanding that the hotel manager “literally get it back.” When the manager then asks Harrold Jr. if he can see the phone, Harrold is stunned. “Are you kidding me?” he asks the woman and hotel manager. “You think there’s only one iPhone made in the world?” The video ends as he and his son move toward the elevator to get away from the confrontation, which proved unsuccessful. The woman then tackled Harrold Jr. and attempted to dig her hands in his pockets, which was captured by surveillance footage that the NYPD released on December 30. “She scratched me; she tackled and grabbed him. He is a child!!!” Harrold wrote on Instagram. Harrold told the New York Times he was thankful he was there protect his son. “I’ve seen people be hurt or even killed for less,” he said.

Harrold says the hotel later told him that the woman had been a guest at the hotel earlier in the week, and that soon after the incident, she found her phone. Apparently it was in the lobby the whole time, where an Uber driver had dropped it off after she left it in their car. Harrold says that the woman has not apologized to him or his son.

The hotel has faced intense criticism for mishandling the incident.

As the video quickly went viral across social media, the incident was widely decried as another blatant example of racial profiling, and one that the hotel mishandled egregiously. As Harrold wrote on Instagram, the manager “empowered her!!!” and “didn’t even consider the fact we were actually the guests.” As he later elaborated to Times, “They assumed he was guilty. The management didn’t even question her as to why she would even think he had the phone.” The family also told the Washington Post that hotel security permitted the woman to leave while they waited for police to arrive.

The Arlo issued a formal apology on December 27, after the video had been widely circulated. In a statement provided to the Times, the hotel apologized for not doing enough to “de-escalate the dispute,” characterizing the incident as a “baseless accusation, prejudice, and an assault against an innocent guest” and that “no Arlo guest — or any person — should be subject to this kind of behavior.” The statement continued: “We are committed to making sure this never happens again at any of our hotels.”

The incident is under investigation by the NYPD and the Manhattan DA’s office.

On December 28, the Manhattan district attorney’s office told Intelligencer that the office is “thoroughly investigating” the incident. The NYPD has also opened its own investigation, and confirmed to BuzzFeed News that a harassment complaint has been filed. In a statement made through the famed civil-rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the family, Harrold called on the DA’s office to bring assault and battery charges against the woman, and for there to be a civil-rights investigation into the Arlo “for its implicit bias.”

“As this year of racial awareness is drawing to a close, it’s deeply troubling that incidents like this one, in which a black child is viewed as and treated like a criminal, continue to happen,” Harrold’s statement reads.

The NYPD has reportedly identified the woman as Miya Ponsetto.

Before the woman was identified in the press, she granted CNN a 20-minute phone interview. The outlet did not disclose the woman’s identity, citing “concerns for her safety unrelated to this incident,” but noted that she is 22 years old.

In the interview, the woman challenged Harrold’s version of events, maintaining that she was the one assaulted, and contending that she had evidence to prove it. (CNN reports that she went dark after agreeing to share proof.) The woman said that she first tried to identify a prospective phone thief by asking to review the hotel’s security footage, and then demanded another person in the lobby “empty their pocket.” When she turned her sights on Harrold Jr., however, “That’s when everything got a little bit more serious.” The woman told CNN that the teen had her phone in his pocket, which CNN was unable to confirm, and contradicts Harrold’s version of the story. Still, she said that although the NYPD hadn’t contacted her, she was prepared to cooperate with the investigation. “That’s not who I am,” she told CNN. “I actually … try very hard to make sure that I am always doing the right thing.”

On December 31, the New York Post reported that NYPD sources have identified the woman in the video as Miya Ponsetto; according to public records, only one woman by that names live in the U.S., and her last known address is in Simi Valley, California. The Post — and later TMZ also looked into California court records, which show that Ponsetto and her mother were accused of causing a serious disturbance in a Southern California hotel in February 2020. Per the records, both women were charged with public intoxication, and Ponsetto’s mother faced an additional charge: battery of a public-safety worker.

This post has been updated.

A Woman Falsely Accused a Black Teen of Stealing Her Phone