Woman pleads guilty to hate crime after wrongly accusing Black teen of stealing phone
The California woman dubbed "SoHo Karen" after she wrongly accused a Black teenager of stealing her cellphone in New York City has pleaded guilty to a hate crime charge, officials said Monday.
Miya Ponsetto, 23, has admitted to unlawful imprisonment "as a hate crime" but can plead again and have the charge reduced to misdemeanor aggravated harassment if she steers clear of any trouble for two years, Manhattan prosecutors said.
A viral video showed Ponsetto lunging at, tackling and shouting at Keyon Harrold Jr., then 14, whom she accused, with no evidence, of taking her iPhone.
The incident took place Dec. 26, 2020, in the lobby of Arlo Soho, an upscale boutique hotel where the teenager and his father, Keyon Harrold, a jazz musician, were guests.
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It was later discovered that Ponsetto, who is white, left her phone in an Uber vehicle, and the device was returned to her. The incident has been held up as a symbol of racial profiling.
“Ms. Ponsetto displayed outrageous behavior. As a Black man, I have personally experienced racial profiling countless times in my life and I sympathize with the young man victimized in this incident," Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said in a statement Monday.
"This plea ensures appropriate accountability for Ms. Ponsetto by addressing underlying causes for her behavior and ensuring this conduct does not reoccur."
Ben Crump, a lawyer for the teen, said in a statement that it was "highly disappointing" that Ponsetto will receive only probation.
"We won't change the culture until we hold people accountable for their outrageously bad behavior," he said.
The New York case piggybacks on a previous DUI case in California in which Ponsetto is serving probation and undergoing counseling.
Ponsetto, a receptionist in Southern California, is grateful for the deal, her attorney, Paul D’Emilia, said.
"We are pleased that today’s proceeding brought this unfortunate misunderstanding closer to a final resolution," D'Emilia said in a statement. "Miya Ponsetto has been leading an exemplary life since this incident with the young man close to a year and a half ago."
Ponsetto hopes the victim "accepts her regrets and apology for her behavior that evening, and that all involved can move forward," D’Emilia said.
If Ponsetto does not comply with her terms of probation, she could face 1⅓ to 4 years in state prison, prosecutors said.