December 8, 2023

Black teen wrongfully accused of stealing phone in viral incident at SoHo hotel says he’s shell shocked

SOHO, Manhattan (WABC) — A family involved in a now-viral incident in a New York…

Black teen wrongfully accused of stealing phone in viral incident at SoHo hotel says he’s shell shocked
SOHO, Manhattan (WABC) — A family involved in a now-viral incident in a New York City hotel in which a woman wrongly accused a Black teen of stealing a cell phone is speaking out, with the 14-year-old telling Good Morning America he still doesn’t understand exactly what happened.

“I’ve been confused,” Keyon Harrold Jr. said. “I mean, don’t know what would’ve happened if my dad wasn’t there, honestly. These past few days, still kind of shell-shocked. But I’m hanging in there.”

He appeared with his father — Grammy-winning jazz musician Keyon Harrold — his mom Kat Rodriguez and their attorney Ben Crump, who is calling for Manhattan District Attorney to bring charges against the woman.

The incident, which was recorded on cellphone video, happened in the lobby of the Arlo Hotel on Saturday, where the teen and his father were staying as guests. The unidentified woman repeatedly demanded he “give it back,” apparently referencing her cell phone.

Watch the video that was posted on social media below:

The woman’s cell phone was later found in an Uber.

“For me, I was confused because I’ve never seen that lady ever, and I didn’t know what to do at the moment,” Harrold Jr. said. “At first, I would like an apology. And two, I would ask her why she would do something like this to a kid who has never met you?”

The video has since gone viral and has prompted accusations of racial profiling toward Harrold and his family.

Harrold Sr. said that physically, the woman “was all on him asking for his phone immediately” once they got down to the lobby.

“But after the video cuts off and, I mean, she basically tackled, she scratched me, and I was there to, you know, try to protect my little cub,” he said. “And basically trying to keep her away, keep her off of my son. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if I wasn’t there to be with him.”

Watch: The Harrold family talks to ‘GMA’:

He also said he was thrown off that the hotel representative was “basically siding with her” over his son.

“I just wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “I’m still in shock, I’m still trying to try to believe, you know, that it happened to happen so quickly…It is just unbelievable that someone would literally have the audacity to assume and wrongly accuse.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in, saying of the incident, “The is racism. Plain and simple.”

“It would be horrific at any age, but it’s especially offensive that it happened to a child,” he wrote on Twitter. “To Keyon Harrold Jr. and his family: I am so sorry this happened to you. Her behavior was an affront to our city’s values.”

Harrold said his son is still shaken up over the incident.

“He wanted to know how it was his fault,” Harrold said. “Basically my conversations are to let him know that son, you’re just, you know, continue to live the way you live. We have to do things. We have to change the narrative. We have to change laws. We have to do things that would allow you to literally be the American little boy, 14-year-old minor that you are, that you have rights. You have just as many rights as anybody else walking these streets.”

Rodriguez, who was not present at the time, said she’s still waiting to hear from the woman, who she wants to come forward and explain herself.

“Fear came in because my son, if his father wouldn’t have been there, what would have happened to my son if the cops would have been called,” she said. “When my son asked me, ‘Why me, mom?’ That just hurt.

The confrontation prompted comparisons to recent incidents involving false accusations against Black people. In May, a Black birdwatcher pulled out his phone in Central Park and captured a white woman calling police to report she was being threatened by “an African-American man.”

Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump is calling on Manhattan DA Cy Vance to file charges against the woman in the video.

“We want charges because we have to send a message because this has larger society implications,” he said. “Think about how many Black men have been falsely accused by these Karens and they end up losing their liberty and losing their life sitting in prison.”

The NYPD says detectives are investigating the incident as at least misdemeanor assault but that the woman was gone by the time they arrived at the hotel.

It is not being investigated as a bias incident at this time, but NYPD Chief of Detectives Rodney Harrison said that after viewing the video, potential charges may include assault, grand larceny or maybe even attempted robbery.

Police say the woman has positively identified and is an out-of-state resident, and detectives are endeavoring to locate her. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office says it will “thoroughly investigating this incident.”

Hotel management said in a posting Sunday they reached out to Harrold and his son to apologize.

“We’re deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest of Arlo Hotel,” they said on Facebook.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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