Miya Ponsetto Faces Charges for Accusing a Black Teen of Stealing Her Phone at a SoHo Hotel
For, a nationally televised interview was an opportunity to apologize, her lawyer said, for falsely…
For, a nationally televised interview was an opportunity to apologize, her lawyer said, for falsely accusing a Black teenager of stealing her cellphone — and then tackling him — in the lobby of a SoHo hotel.
Instead, Ms. Ponsetto, 22, went off script. She stormed out of the disastrous interview with “CBS This Morning,” recorded on Thursday, only to be arrested hours later by the California authorities.
Her lawyer, Sharen H. Ghatan, who represented her in California, said on Friday that she had become concerned for Ms. Ponsetto, who behaved erratically in the hours before her arrest.
“My concern now is with her mental health and her well being,” Ms. Ghatan said. “She is behaving in a fashion that is completely of her own volition.” Of the interview, which was met with widespread derision online, Ms. Ghatan said, “I was embarrassed for her.”
At around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, the police said, Ms. Ponsetto got into her vehicle outside her home in Piru, Calif., and ignored orders from the police to stop. Deputies with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and two New York detectives who had traveled to California to arrest Ms. Ponsetto followed her for about a mile before she was finally detained, the authorities said.
“She kept driving,” said Capt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. “She was very uncooperative.”
In late December, Ms. Ponsetto was caught on video tackling Keyon Harrold Jr., the 14-year-old son of a prominent jazz musician, in the lobby of a boutique hotel in SoHo. She had falsely accused him of stealing her cellphone and can be heard on the video yelling, “No, I’m not letting him walk away with my phone!”
The video, which prompted widespread consternation on social media, was yet another example of Black people in America being confronted with baseless accusations while simply going about their lives. It drew comparisons to an incident in May in which a white woman called 911 to falsely claim that a Black bird-watcher in Central Park had threatened her life. (Ms. Ponsetto, her lawyer said, is of Puerto Rican and Vietnamese descent.)
Ms. Ponsetto is not being charged with a hate or bias crime “because she didn’t say anything about that,” said a New York police official briefed on the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. The Manhattan district attorney’s office did not comment on Friday.
During a court appearance in California on Friday, Ms. Ponsetto was transferred to the custody of the New York authorities, Captain Buschow said.
The New York police said on Saturday that in addition to facing a charge of third-degree attempted robbery, Ms. Ponsetto also faces charges of grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and two counts of attempted assault.
At an arraignment for Ms. Ponsetto on Saturday night in Manhattan, Sarah Marquez, an assistant district attorney, told a judge that Ms. Ponsetto had dragged the teenager “to the floor despite the attempt of numerous people to intervene.”
Ms. Marquez said that Ms. Ponsetto also was also involved in three open cases in California, where she is accused of public intoxication, driving with a suspended license and more aggressive acts, such as a “physical altercation with her mother” and “bringing an officer to the ground.”
Ms. Ponsetto uttered a few sentences during the hearing, telling the judge softly, “I understand,” when he explained the gravity of the allegations. She was released under court-approved supervision.
Ms. Ponsetto’s defense lawyer in New York, Paul D’Emilia, said that while he disagreed with many of the allegations, his client had not fled New York for California because there was “no indication that she was going to be placed under arrest.”
The arrest in California came after more than a week of mounting pressure on the New York Police Department to hold her accountable.
Before her arrest, Ms. Ponsetto sat down for an interview with “CBS This Morning,” in which she said her actions had not been racially motivated. She instead presented herself as a young woman who could have handled the situation better.
“I’m a 22-year-old girl,” Ms. Ponsetto told CBS’s Gayle King. “I don’t — racism is — how is one girl accusing a guy about a phone a crime?”
At one point during the interview she held up a hand to the camera and said, “All right, Gayle — enough,” as Ms. Ghatan quietly pleaded with her to stop.
Ms. Ghatan said she had canceled other media appearances for Ms. Ponsetto after observing her client growing increasingly erratic during her interview with Ms. King. Ms. Ghatan said she had repeatedly tried to interrupt her, to no avail. “She went off script,” she said. “She decided to disregard my advice and just go on her own.”
“I don’t think she should have handled it the way she did,” Ms. Ghatan added. “She was prepared and guided. She apologized, but not in the way she should have. But she said so many other things that it almost blurred her message. It was so disrespectful.”
The video in question surfaced after Keyon Harrold, who was staying at the Arlo SoHo hotel with his son, Keyon Jr., recorded the incident and later posted the video on social media.
The video shows Ms. Ponsetto confronting Mr. Harrold and his son after they walk into the hotel lobby. She insists, without evidence, that Keyon Jr. has taken her cellphone. Ms. Ponsetto then asks a man who is heard identifying himself as a hotel manager for help. The video goes on to show the manager asking the young man to produce the cellphone, in an apparent attempt to confirm Ms. Ponsetto’s allegations.
The New York Police Department released surveillance footage that shows Ms. Ponsetto running after Keyon Jr. and tackling him.
Ms. Ponsetto also tried to rummage through Keyon Jr.’s pockets, Mr. Harrold said in a recent interview. Mr. Harrold said he had been informed by hotel employees that an Uber driver had found Ms. Ponsetto’s phone later in the day and that she had picked it up from the hotel.