Family of Black teen falsely accused of stealing phone sues woman, hotel for racial profiling

The family of a Black teenager who was falsely accused of stealing a cellphone is suing the woman who tackled him and the Manhattan hotel where the attack took place.

The family of Keyon Harrold Jr. on Wednesday filed the racial profiling lawsuit against alleged 22-year-old instigator Miya Ponsetto, the Arlo SoHo Hotel and its manager Chad Nathan.

It alleges the hotel violated New York human rights law by failing to intervene when the teenager was being targeted because he is Black. It also accuses the defendants of assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment and negligence, among other charges.

Filed by famed civil rights attorney Ben Crump, the lawsuit stems from a Dec. 26 incident at the New York City hotel that went viral.

Grammy Award-winning jazz musician Keyon Harrold was at the hotel with his 15-year-old son when a woman, later identified as Ponsetto, accused the boy of holding her cellphone when he was holding his own device.

The lawsuit alleges that as soon as the father and son, both of whom are Black, entered the lobby, Ponsetto and Nathan “immediately focused their attention on them and disregarded all of the other non-African American individuals.”

In video shot by Harrold, Ponsetto repeatedly urges the hotel manager to grab the phone. Nathan is heard assisting Ponsetto and demanding to see the device in the teenager’s hand.

The suit alleges that Nathan was improperly trained and unfit to carry out his duties “as he permitted, empowered and assisted Ponsetto to assault, batter, berate, harass, humiliate and degrade a fifteen year old African American child.”

As the father and son attempted to walk out of the lobby, the woman can be heard on the video yelling “I’m not letting him walk away with my phone.” 

The lawsuit states that Ponsetto tackled the 15-year-old, “dropping him to the ground where she began to grab at his pants and rummage through his pockets in an attempt to steal his phone.”

Ponsetto’s phone was reportedly returned just minutes after the incident by an Uber driver.

The teenager ultimately suffered “great mental distress, shock, fright, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional distress and feelings of racial stigmatization,” according to the complaint.

“This is Racial Profiling 101, America,” Crump said during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

Ponsetto was arrested in her home state in January. She is facing charges of attempted robbery, grand larceny, acting in a manner injurious to a child and two counts of attempted assault.

Her attorney, Sharen Ghatan, previously denied that the altercation was “race-related.”

“That phone could have been in hand of 90-year-old grandma, an Asian person … someone Black or blue,” she told NBC News.

After the incident, Arlo Hotels said in a since-deleted Instagram post that the chain was “deeply disheartened about the recent incident of baseless accusation, prejudice, and assault against an innocent guest.”

On Tuesday, the company released a new diversity, equity and inclusion plan.

“We’ve been reflecting, listening and acting,” Arlo Hotels said in a statement. “We are pushing forward to live up to our values and purpose, to positively impact our guests, local communities and our hospitality team.”

The Hill has reached out to Ghatan and Arlo Hotels regarding the lawsuit.

Tags Keyon Harrold Racial profiling

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